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“On the Gafams blows the wind of antitrust”

Federal Trade Commission President Joseph Simons (foreground) in Washington, March 7, 2019. Erin Scott / REUTERS

Losses & profits. It’s not only in Europe that the “Big Five” of technology are in the sights of the guardians of competition, with European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in mind. The president of the American Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Joseph Simons, announced, Tuesday, February 11, that he was interested again in Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft (Gafam), suspected of sprains to antitrust rules. He asked them for information and documents on “Business acquisition strategies, voting and board appointment agreements, staff hiring agreements” or the prices charged after these purchases. The wind of anti-competition is blowing on the Gafam.

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Mr. Simons justified his move by the importance these tech giants have taken in the economy and the lives of consumers. His requests relate to hundreds of small operations carried out between 1st January 2010 and December 31, 2019. The Hart-Scott-Rodino Act (1976) requires companies to provide all necessary information to the FTC and the Department of Justice (DoJ), the two main antitrust bodies, when an operation exceeds a certain ceiling (94 million dollars in 2020, 86 million euros).

Hundreds of small operations

The FTC wants “Deepen understanding” even modest acquisitions. Over the years, the Gafam have, in fact, absorbed start-ups likely to worry them about some of their activities, suspects the agency. A practice contrary to the interests of consumers, which could lead to the “Denunciation” of past operations, warned Simons. Will he be interested in the most important, like the takeover of Instagram (2012) and WhatsApp (2014) by Facebook, which is already the subject of an FTC investigation, of smart home automation objects from Nest Labs by Google (2014) or Linkedin by Microsof (2016)? He did not exclude it, even if it seems legally difficult to reverse acquisitions that have received the green light from the competition gendarmes.

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Democrats and Republicans have been denouncing for a long time “Years of inaction” of these authorities. They accuse them of having allowed the giants of Silicon Valley and their armies of lawyers to constitute monopolies, an abuse of dominant position denied by the Gafa. Parliamentarians, and many attorneys in the states, have taken over. In the House of Representatives, the judicial commission investigates their practices. In July, the DoJ launched investigations into possible anti-competitive practices, in particular against Apple (for its App Store) and Amazon (for its hyperpower in online commerce). Mme Dressing is less and less alone.

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