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FTC to Examine Past Acquisitions by Large Technology Companies

Agency Issues 6(b) Orders to Alphabet Inc., Amazon.com, Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook, Inc., Google Inc., and Microsoft Corp.

The Federal Trade Commission issued Special Orders to five large technology firms, requiring them to provide information about prior acquisitions not reported to the antitrust agencies under the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Act. The orders require Alphabet Inc. (including Google), Amazon.com, Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook, Inc., and Microsoft Corp. 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.

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The Commission issued these orders under Section 6(b) of the FTC Act, which authorizes the Commission to conduct wide-ranging studies that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose. The orders will help the FTC deepen its understanding of large technology firms’ acquisition activity, including how these firms report their transactions to the federal antitrust agencies, and whether large tech companies are making potentially anticompetitive acquisitions of nascent or potential competitors that fall below HSR filing thresholds and therefore do not need to be reported to the antitrust agencies.

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

The Special Orders require each recipient to identify acquisitions that were not reported to the FTC and the U.S. Department of Justice under the HSR Act, and to provide information similar to that requested on the HSR notification and report form. The orders also require companies to provide information and documents on their corporate acquisition strategies, voting and board appointment agreements, agreements to hire key personnel from other companies, and post-employment covenants not to compete. Last, the orders ask for information related to post-acquisition product development and pricing, including whether and how acquired assets were integrated and how acquired data has been treated.

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The Commission plans to use the information obtained in this study to examine trends in acquisitions and the structure of deals, including whether acquisitions not subject to HSR notification might have raised competitive concerns, and the nature and extent of other agreements that may restrict competition. The Commission also seeks to learn more about how small firms perform after they are acquired by large technology firms. These and related issues were discussed during several sessions of the FTC’s 2018 Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century, and this study is part of the follow-up from those Hearings.

The FTC has a statutory right under the HSR Act to review acquisitions and mergers over a certain size before they are consummated, and the study will help the Commission consider whether additional transactions should be subject to premerger notification requirements. The orders will also contribute broadly to the FTC’s understanding of technology markets, and thereby support the FTC’s program of vigorous and effective enforcement to promote competition and protect consumers in digital markets.

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