The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is inching closer to hitting big tech companies with an antitrust review. The FTC is asking five companies — Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft— to detail acquisitions they made between 2010 and 2019, and to explain their purpose for acquiring individual companies.
The FTC made the announcement on the issuing of Special Orders on Tuesday, February 11. The companies will have to report acquisitions—including data acquisitions—that they didn’t initially report under the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Act. The HSR Act requires “companies to file pre-merger notifications with the Federal Trade Commission and the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department for certain acquisitions.”
“Digital technology companies are a big part of the economy and our daily lives,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons, in a press release. “This initiative will enable the commission to take a closer look at acquisitions in this important sector, and also to evaluate whether the federal agencies are getting adequate notice of transactions that might harm competition. This will help us continue to keep tech markets open and competitive, for the benefit of consumers.”
During a conference call on Tuesday, Simons that they aren’t issuing the special orders to hit anyone with a lawsuit or enforcement, but rather as a policy and research planning. The FTC will also see if there needs to be more reporting requirements beyond the HSR Act; however, Simons said that all outcomes are on the table and that the FTC could even reverse a merger or acquisition if it felt it violated the rules.
“If during this study we see that there were transactions that were problematic, it’s conceivable that we could go back and initiate enforcement actions to deal with those transactions,” he said. “It could result in unwinding of acquisitions.”
Simons said that the FTC voted unanimously to authorize these orders and that the FTC intends to move quickly on getting a response from these companies. The size of the acquisition doesn’t matter–the FTC will look at all of the transactions, no matter how small, during the nine-year period, which he said is in the hundreds.
The Justice Department announced a broad antitrust review into Big Tech, most likely including Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google, last July. The Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee also began an investigation into these same platforms that same month to determine if these companies prevent outside competition and/or if they hurt consumers.
The FTC already has an ongoing investigation into Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram, but Tuesday’s announcement means the organization is looking into other big tech companies as well.
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