FTC To Study Big Tech Acquisitions Since 2010

The Federal Trade Commission will examine a decade's worth of tech company acquisitions that were too small to trigger antitrust scrutiny when they occurred.

The FTC said Tuesday that it has sent letters to Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, ordering them to “provide information and documents on the terms, scope, structure, and purpose of transactions that each company consummated between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2019.”

The agency says it aims to study how tech companies "report their transactions to the federal antitrust agencies, and whether large tech companies are making potentially anticompetitive acquisitions of nascent or potential competitors.”

Chairman Joe Simons added during a press conference that the investigation was being conducted as a "research and policy project," and not for law enforcement purposes.

But he also acknowledged that the results could “inform enforcement."

“If, during this study, we see that there are transactions that were problematic, all options are on the table,” he said. “It's conceivable we could initiate enforcement actions to deal with those transactions.”

He said the FTC would be particularly concerned if the study revealed instances where tech companies made “acquisitions that took out what could have become a significant competitive threat.”

Generally, deals valued at more than $90 million must be reviewed by the FTC and U.S. Department of Justice -- although there are exceptions where deals worth more than that figure don't trigger regulatory review.

Simons estimates the review will cover "hundreds" of acquisitions that didn't previously draw scrutiny.

He said the new study grows out of issues raised during recent hearings on the state of competition, including concerns that tech platforms were acquiring nascent or potential competitors.

While the FTC unanimously voted in favor of the study, Commissioners Christine Wilson and Rohit Chopra said in a joint statement that they would like the agency to prioritize studies that examine privacy and data security practices of tech companies and social media platforms.

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