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Amazon, Google, and Facebook ordered to turn over evidence for far-reaching FTC merger review

The Federal Trade Commission announced on Tuesday that it will begin reviewing past acquisitions made by big tech companies, including Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft.

In orders issued to the companies, the FTC said that it was seeking “information and documents on the terms, scope, structure, and purpose of” small and unreported transactions made between January 1st, 2010, and December 31st, 2019. The commission’s study will focus on quiet acquisitions and acquihires, not large deals like Facebook’s purchases of Instagram and WhatsApp.

Facebook declined to comment on the FTC’s study. Alphabet / Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Digital technology companies are a big part of the economy and our daily lives,” Republican FTC chair Joe Simons 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. This will help us continue to keep tech markets open and competitive, for the benefit of consumers.”

In a press release announcing the news, the FTC said it would use the data and documents provided by the companies to “examine trends” in the tech industry’s merger strategies and structures and to analyze “how small firms perform after they are acquired” by larger companies. This new information could lead officials to look at future deals more closely.

Many giant companies are convinced that their dominance is due to their genius and innovation. But the truth is that so many can get big by swallowing up or shutting down potential threats. They don’t need to invent killer apps if they can stay on top through killer acquisitions.

In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Simons said that the FTC’s primary goal for conducting the study is to determine how large an acquisition must be to prompt a company to report it to the commission. If the FTC were to discover anticompetitive merger activity in the past, it could prompt the agency to take enforcement action.

“It could result in unwinding,” Simons said.

Two of the FTC’s other commissioners, Rohit Chopra and Christine S. Wilson, issued a statement in support of the agency’s announcement but urged it to probe companies on consumer protection issues like data privacy, security, and targeted advertising, too. Simons told reporters that it wasn’t “out of the question” for this study to focus on these other areas of concern.

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