In context: As larger companies buy up more and more smaller firms, it becomes increasingly important for watchdogs to keep tabs on acquisitions. That's why the FTC has initiated a study into several major players in the tech industry. It wants to see how these corporations handle smaller takeovers that are not subject to governmental oversight.
On Tuesday, the US Federal Trade Commission opened an antitrust investigation into several tech companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Google, and the latter’s parent company Alphabet. The probe is looking into the firms’ acquisitions over the past several years.
Specifically, the FTC is focussing on buyouts that were not required to be reported to the Commission and other agencies by the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Act. Under the HSR Act, companies must file paperwork with the FTC and the Department of Justice before completing mergers or buyouts. The filings are used to determine whether they are anticompetitive or not. Many smaller mergers are not bound by HSR rules.
“Digital technology companies are a big part of the economy and our daily lives,” said FTC Chair Joe Simmons. "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.”
Not all acquisitions are required to file under the HSR Act, only those that meet a specific value must file. The FTC will audit all past transactions since January 1, 2010. It said that it is not looking to bring law enforcement actions against the companies, but rather to gain an insight into how the firms handle mergers and takeovers. The study will focus on smaller pickups that are not subject to HSR scrutiny. Among other things, the Commission seeks insight into how smaller companies perform after being bought out.
While it says it is not looking for a reason to slap any of the companies with fines or other penalties, should it stumble across any flagrant violations, it will likely take appropriate action.
The firms have been issued “Special Orders,” requiring them to turn over any information or documentation related to unreported acquisitions. The FTC did not state a deadline for the submission of such materials.
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