Tuesday, 11 February 2020

FTC demands data about small buys by Google, Amazon, others

The Federal Trade Commission has issued special orders to five big tech companies - Alphabet Inc’s Google unit, Amazon.com Inc, Apple Inc, Facebook Inc and Microsoft Corp - to provide information about mergers too small to report to antitrust agencies, the agency said on Tuesday.

The orders were issued as part of the agency’s study into whether the companies buy up nascent or potential competitors, it said in a statement.

“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,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in the statement.

Google, Amazon.com, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agency asked for information about deals that were done between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2019.

The orders require each company to identify transactions that were too small to report to the FTC and Justice Department, which assess mergers to ensure that they comply with antitrust law.

“The commission plans to use the information obtained in this study to examine trends in acquisitions and the structure of deals, including whether acquisitions not subject to (antitrust) notification might have raised competitive concerns,” the statement said.

The queries occur at a time when the Justice Department, FTC, state attorneys general, and House Judiciary Committee are all investigating the big tech platforms for potentially anti-competitive behavior. They are accused of using their clout to defend their market share or to expand into adjacent markets.

Alphabet spent $1 billion on an unspecified number of small acquisitions in 2019, according to securities filings. Many were companies working on artificial intelligence research and cloud computing services, areas in which Google is trying to quickly innovate and has sought to bolster hiring.

With the exception of its $3 billion acquisition of headphone and streaming company Beats in 2014, Apple has mostly made small deals valued at less than $500 million over the past decade, snapping up small companies working on key technologies such as augmented reality displays, camera sensors, and artificial intelligence software.

In fiscal 2019, Microsoft made 19 small acquisitions for a total of $1.6 billion, mostly in cash.

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