In a major push back to the ‘Big Tech’ companies in the US, the US Federal Trade Commission staff on Wednesday presented data exposing the small acquisitions route taken by top five technology companies to cut competition and further consolidate its already strong position.
The agency also announced to scrap the guidelines on vertical mergers which combine a company with a supplier — both steps indicating plans to be tougher on deals. During a study conducted during the Trump administration, the FTC staff found that Facebook, Alphabet’s Google, Amazon.com, Apple, and Microsoft together had 616 acquisitions from 2010 to 2019 that were above $1 million but too small to be reported to antitrust agencies, among other findings.
Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter, a Democrat, said looking at deals individually was inadequate. “I think of serial acquisitions as a Pac-Man strategy. Each individual merger viewed independently may not seem to have a significant impact. But the collective impact of hundreds of smaller acquisitions can lead to a monopolistic behavior,” she said.
Commissioner Christine Wilson, a Republican, called for a similar study on health care mergers. The FTC sued Facebook last year, alleging the social media company broke antitrust law. It has asked a judge to undo Facebook’s deals for photosharing app Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp although both were reviewed by the agency.
The FTC, which began holding open meetings after progressive Lina Khan became chair in June, also voted to withdraw Trump-era guidelines regarding vertical deals. Republicans Wilson and Noah Phillips opposed the decision.
The Justice Department meanwhile, said that it was reviewing both vertical merger guidelines and guidelines on horizontal deals, or mergers of competitors.
“The department’s review has already identified several aspects of the guidelines that deserve close scrutiny, and we will work closely with the FTC to update them as appropriate,” Richard Powers, acting head of the antitrust division, said in a statement.