Why it matters: The FTC's latest round of fines fired at big companies has only managed to highlight the fact that in the face of slow-moving investigations, companies like Facebook are able to get away with deceptive practices and even come out stronger as a result. A renewed focus on mergers and acquisitions is signaling to tech giants that such strategic moves are soon going to be more trouble than worth.
The Federal Trade Commission is keeping its promise that it will put every aspect of Facebook's business under the looking glass. For now, it is looking into the social media giant's acquisitions – both big and small – in the hopes of getting a better of picture of the true motivations behind them.
Facebook has acquired around 90 different startups over the last decade and a half, if you go by S&P Global. The Wall Street Journal says that regulators are looking at how CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives approached these companies. To that end, the FTC is reaching out to founders and other key people involved in the negotiations.
The two biggest acquisitions were Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion and WhatsApp for a whopping $19 billion in 2014. Facebook intended to snap up Twitter at some point, but that didn't go anywhere. A few less prominent purchases like Moments and Moves were bought only to find themselves in the Facebook graveyard. This comes in stark contrast with the company's arguments that these acquisitions are brought under its umbrella to have a better chance to flourish than they would if they were on their own.
Last week, when Facebook was fined $5 billion, they said the FTC would also go on to investigate "in the areas of social networking or social media services, digital advertising, and/or mobile or online applications." A company representative argued the acquisitions were a way to strengthen Facebook services and improve their quality, resulting in "more choice for more people overall."
Another acquisition that could raise some eyebrows among regulators is the 2013 purchase of Onavo, a VPN app that Facebook used to peek into more personal information until this year, when the company removed it from mobile app stores. Interestingly enough, the data gathered from Onavo was key to Facebook's decision to buy WhatsApp.
To put things in perspective, regulators are now increasingly interested in small, systematic acquisitions that big tech companies are making in order to gain an upper hand. Typically, these are able to fly under the regulators' radar, but it seems like that's not going to be the case anymore. Even the DOJ is starting to pick up smaller details of how companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon build their empires.