Tech

Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft face US’ FTC probe over small buys

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 on mergers that were too small to report to antitrust regulators, the FTC said on Tuesday.

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

FTC Chairman Joe Simons declined to rule out an enforcement action based on results of the study. “All options are on the table,” he said.

Google, Amazon.com, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests 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 tech giants have come under fire from both sides of the political spectrum, with Republicans irked by what they say is a stifling of conservative voices on social media and Democrats angered by increasing consolidation.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is running for president, has explicitly called for federal regulators to undo “ant-competitive mergers,” including Amazon’s purchases of Whole Foods and Zappos, Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp and Instagram and Google’s acquisitions of Waze, Nest and DoubleClick.

Alphabet spent $1 billion (772.20 million pounds) 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 innovate quickly 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.

Microsoft has sought to consolidate its position in the business software market, with major acquisitions such as the LinkedIn social network for business professionals and the code repository site GitHub. Since acquiring LinkedIn – which also fielded rival offers from Microsoft’s competitor Salesforce Inc – Microsoft has begun integrating LinkedIn’s social network data with Microsoft products such as its Outlook email program.

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