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FTC Launches Inquiry into Big Tech Deals

The Federal Trade Commission has launched a lookback at some of the smaller past acquisitions by some of the largest tech companies.

The FTC said Tuesday it has issued "special orders" to Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, which require them to provide info on all acquisitions over the past decade (Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2019).

The orders are not related to any investigation of a specific company, but are rather an effort, the FTC said, to "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 [Hart Scott Rodino] filing thresholds and therefore do not need to be reported to the antitrust agencies."

The inquiry will focus on smaller deals that did not require automatic antitrust reviews.

Deals below a certain value--currently $84 million--don't need to be submitted to the FTC and Justice for antitrust review. The FTC revises the figure annually based on the gross national product (GNP).

But the FTC will also look at wider issues. The data drop must also include "corporate acquisition strategies, voting and board appointment agreements, agreements to hire key personnel from other companies, and post-employment covenants not to compete."

The FTC also wants info on "post-acquisition product development and pricing, including whether and how acquired assets were integrated and how acquired data has been treated."

Related: Simons Says Facebook, Other Tech Investigations Are Still Ongoing

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

Big Tech has been under a big cloud in Washington over issues including privacy, data security, censorship, immunity from liability for third-party postings, online political advertising, children's online protections and more.

The Administration had signaled it would be looking at past transactions to see whether and how its approach to Big Tech antitrust reviews might need to change.