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By John D. McKinnon
WASHINGTON -- The Federal Trade Commission ordered five big tech companies to provide detailed information about their previous acquisitions of small companies, expanding the agency's investigation into possible antitrust concerns in digital markets.
The FTC ordered the companies -- Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Google owner Alphabet Inc. -- to turn over information and documents relating to the scope, structure and purpose of their takeovers of smaller companies between 2010 and 2019.
The FTC orders don't have a specific enforcement purpose, but they will help the agency "deepen its understanding of large technology firms' acquisition activity," the agency said, including "whether large tech companies are making potentially anticompetitive acquisitions of nascent or potential competitors" that are too small to require legal review by federal authorities.
The five companies named by the FTC didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
"Digital technology companies are a big part of the economy and our daily lives," said FTC Chairman Joseph 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 FTC said it plans to use the information obtained to examine trends in acquisitions, including whether acquisitions not subject to federal review might have raised competitive concerns.
The FTC also seeks to learn more about how small companies perform after they are acquired by large technology firms.
The FTC and the Justice Department already have been scrutinizing possible antitrust concerns with regard to several of the major tech companies, including Google and Facebook. In addition, the FTC announced in early 2019 that it was creating a new task force to examine potential antitrust violations across the tech industry.
The FTC has been particularly focused on re-examining mergers that already have been approved by the government. That re-examination could eventually lead the FTC to try to unwind deals that it finds to be having anticompetitive effects now, officials have said.
The FTC action reflects growing concern in Washington and around the country that some U.S. tech companies have grown so large and powerful that they have begun to squelch competition in various ways and harm consumers.
In a joint statement, the two Democrats on the five-member panel urged the commission to study "consumer protection issues arising from the privacy and data security practices of technology companies, including social media platforms."
"In particular, we encourage the FTC to study whether and, if so, how content curation and targeted advertising practices impact data collection, use, and sharing," said the statement from commissioners Christine S. Wilson and Rohit Chopra.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 11, 2020 13:03 ET (18:03 GMT)
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