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Lina Khan targets low-hanging fruit for first big antitrust move

December 3, 2021, 6:04 PM UTC

Like any smart newbie looking to make a good first impression, Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan is beginning her antitrust campaign with an easy case.

The FTC moved Thursday to block semiconductor maker Nvidia’s planned $40 billion acquisition of chip designer Arm, jumping ahead of counterparts in Europe who have all-but-guaranteed they would try to scuttle the largest-ever semiconductor deal. FTC officials argue that California-based Nvidia could undermine its competitors if it takes over Arm’s technology, which it licenses to Apple, Samsung, Intel, and dozens more of the industry’s largest manufacturers.

“This proposed deal would distort Arm’s incentives in chip markets and allow the combined firm to unfairly undermine Nvidia’s rivals,” FTC Bureau of Competition Director Holly Vedova said in a statement. “The FTC’s lawsuit should send a strong signal that we will act aggressively to protect our critical infrastructure markets from illegal vertical mergers that have far-reaching and damaging effects on future innovations.”

In a statement, a Nvidia spokesperson told Fortune that the company “will continue to work to demonstrate that this transaction will benefit the industry and promote competition.”

The FTC filing has, understandably, been cast as Khan’s opening salvo in her promised crusade to increase enforcement of antitrust law, which she and many Democrats argue has been ignored amid rapid Big Tech consolidation.

But Khan, perhaps smartly, isn’t exactly taking a big swing here.

From the moment that Nvidia announced its planned acquisition in September 2020, analysts and competitors have been skeptical the deal would go through. In subsequent months, some of the U.S.’ most prominent tech companies cried foul about the merger, including Google parent Alphabet, Microsoft, and Qualcomm, Bloomberg reported early this year.

Khan also has momentum at her back, with European Union and United Kingdom regulators already lining up an antitrust case. A top UK official teed up Thursday’s announcement by telling Bloomberg last month that “there is a lot of collaboration” on each side of the Atlantic with regard to Nvidia and Arm.

In addition, the FTC’s case has bipartisan support, with the organization’s two Republican commissioners joining their two Democratic counterparts in support of the case.

The true test of Kahn’s mettle lies farther down the road, as the FTC ponders whether to throw its weight behind challenges to acquisitions with more divided support and more complicated facts. 
Among those cases: Amazon’s proposed $8.5-billion deal to buy Hollywood’s MGM Studios; defense giant Lockheed Martin’s looming $4.4 billion acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne; and the $43 billion merger of AT&T’s WarnerMedia division with Discovery.

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Jacob Carpenter


DiDi says bye-bye to NYSE. The Chinese ride-hailing company DiDi plans to delist from the New York Stock Exchange and seek a listing in Hong Kong, the latest development in the Communist government’s crackdown on its tech companies and their ties to the U.S.. The move comes six months after DiDi launched a $4.4 billion initial public offering on the New York exchange. Chinese government officials have targeted DiDi in subsequent months, ordering the removal of the company’s app from American stores and launching an investigation into unspecified data and national security risks, among other actions. DiDi’s NYSE stock price fell 17% in early afternoon trading.

Better late than never. Google plans to debut a smartwatch next year, making a foray into a space dominated by the six-year-old Apple Watch brand, Insider reported Thursday citing anonymous sources and internal documents. The product would mark a shift in approach for Google, which has opted to sell smartwatch software to manufacturers instead of producing a company-branded product. Google executives have not yet decided whether to brand the product under the Pixel or Android banners, but they do not intend to market it as a FitBit product after recently acquiring that company.

A message to China and Russia. The U.S. government is building a coalition of 100-plus democratic countries that would work to curb exports of surveillance technology that authoritarian governments could use to violate basic human rights, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The partnership follows international sales of spy technology to countries that have used the exports to surveil political dissidents, religious groups, and journalists, among others. Most notably, U.S. companies have provided equipment to China that has contributed to human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, where Uyghurs and other Muslim groups are targeted based on their religion. The nations are expected to create a code of conduct for export-licensing policies and increase information-sharing on sensitive technologies.

Keep enjoying that work-from-home life. Google has scrapped its requirement that all employees must return to their offices in mid-January, opting instead to reassess plans after the new year, CNBC reported. Google officials said they still encourage staff members to return to company buildings, about 90% of which are open, where public health conditions allow. For now, Google is allowing leaders of local outposts to determine back-to-office timelines, with help from company officials focused on health risks.


Avocado companies want your data. As Big Tech outfits empower more users to limit corporate access to their personal information, product producers are increasingly taking matters into their own hands. The Wall Street Journal reported that avocado retailers, breweries, and soft drink purveyors, among many others, are instituting creative ways to get customers to fork over their info. It’s not an easy task for many companies lacking the marketing staff and technical know-how to gather troves of data about their customers.

From the article:

Until now, most advertisers have depended heavily on data from business partners, including tech giants and ad-technology firms, to determine how to focus their ads. But all of the traditional tactics are under assault.

Apple Inc. rolled out a change on its devices this year that restricts how users can be tracked. Google is planning a similar push for its popular Chrome browser. New privacy laws in California and Europe are adding to the squeeze on data.

So brands are deploying an array of tactics to persuade users to surrender data to the brand itself—loyalty programs, sweepstakes, newsletters, quizzes, polls and QR codes, those pixelated black-and-white squares that have become ubiquitous during the pandemic.


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Square’s evolution to Block signals Jack Dorsey’s grand designs on decentralization, by Rey Mashayekhi

Ambient computing is subtly—and powerfully—changing how we use technology, by Dan Catchpole

Elizabeth Holmes’ handwritten note says a lot about how she believed she had to present herself as a CEO, by Felicia Hou


Turbo-Man for the 21st century. In a story straight out of the Sinbad-Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Jingle All the Way (can you believe it turns 25 this year?), the video game console shortage this holiday season is turning the supply-and-demand market into overdrive. Holiday shoppers are battling with bots and scalpers to get their hands on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 devices, The New York Times reported. In a true sign of the (end?) times, an unemployed journalist who started feverishly tweeting this year about video game shipments saw his follower count increase from 21,000 to more than 1 million. Happy hunting.

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