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FTC orders Apple, Google, other tech giants to hand over acquisition info

The commission says it wants to take a closer look at buyouts.

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The FTC wants to examine acquisitions over a 10-year period. 

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The US Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday that it sent special orders to five tech giants -- Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft -- requiring them to turn over detailed information about acquisitions over the past decade. The FTC said it'll review the information to "examine trends in acquisitions," including how firms report transactions and whether companies are making potentially anticompetitive moves.

"Digital technology companies are a big part of the economy and our daily lives," said FTC Chairman Joe Simons in a release. "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."

The FTC ordered the companies to provide information and documents on the "terms, scope, structure, and purpose" of acquisitions made between Jan. 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2019, including those not previously reported under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act. The HSR Act gives the FTC the authority to review acquisitions and mergers over a certain size -- set at $94 million for 2020 -- before they're completed. 

The orders also request information and documents on "corporate acquisition strategies, voting and board appointment agreements, agreements to hire key personnel from other companies, and post-employment covenants not to compete," according to the FTC, as well as details on post-acquisition product development and pricing. 

Amazon declined to comment. A Microsoft spokesperson said the company looks "forward to working with the FTC to answer their questions."

Apple, Facebook and Google didn't respond to requests for comment. 

The FTC review comes as the government has ratcheted up scrutiny of the tech industry as a whole. The Justice Department in July announced an antitrust probe into the tech industry more broadly, targeting Google, AppleFacebook and Amazon. Meanwhile, House Democrats in June announced their own investigation into tech giants, meant to explore whether the companies are engaging in "anti-competitive conduct." 

Over the 10-year period the FTC wants to examine, the five tech companies have been involved in hundreds of acquisitions. Amazon acquired Ring, Whole Foods and Twitch. Facebook picked up Instagram and WhatsApp. Apple acquired virtual assistant maker Siri, and more recently, Intel's smartphone modem business. Google acquired Waze and Nest Labs, and parent company Alphabet is working on a $2.1 billion deal to buy Fitbit. Microsoft bought Skype and LinkedIn. While these larger acquisitions likely already faced FTC scrutiny, smaller ones might have slipped under regulatory thresholds.  

Originally published Feb. 11, 9:55 a.m. PT.
Updates, 10:22 a.m.: Adds more background and information from the FTC; 1:17 p.m.: Adds more background; Feb. 12: Adds response from Microsoft.