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FTC to probe Google, Facebook, and Apple over their acquisitions

February 11, 2020, 5:38 PM UTC

U.S. technology giants face a new wave of scrutiny from antitrust officials, as the Federal Trade Commission demanded information about their acquisitions of startups that may have eliminated emerging competitors.

The FTC issued orders to Alphabet’s Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon.com and Microsoft for information on the terms and purposes of transactions they closed from the beginning of 2010 through 2019, the agency said Tuesday.

“Digital technology companies are a big part of the economy and our daily lives,” FTC Chairman 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.”

The FTC’s move comes amid widespread criticism that antitrust officials have been too permissive in allowing tech giants to buy rivals and strengthen their dominance. The agency’s orders take aim not at big deals, but those that were too small to be reported to regulators but may have targeted nascent competitors.

The FTC has authority under a measure known as Section 6(b) of the FTC Act to collect non-public information from companies. The agency then publishes a “special report” that can lead to understanding of markets, enforcement strategies and voluntary industry guidelines and best practices. The studies can also be used in antitrust investigations, though don’t always have a law enforcement purpose, according to the FTC’s website.

The agency is studying past tech deals as it conducts an antitrust investigation of Facebook. The probe is among several inquiries that target large tech companies. The Justice Department is investigating Facebook as well as Google, while state attorneys general are also probing both companies.

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