Bulletins

US antitrust enforcers want to stop a lot more deals

Hidden in the details of a call for public input is a desire to push back on acquisitions that let Big Tech companies grow to their current size.

A graphic of a gavel being brought down on a computer mouse

Leaders of the FTC and Justice Department's antitrust section are taking aim at mergers.

Image: Sinchen.Lin/Marco Verch/Protocol

The top two U.S. competition enforcers announced on Tuesday a review of policies toward mergers and acquisitions — a signal they're determined to stop a lot more of them.


The Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department's antitrust division announced they want public input on how to "modernize enforcement of the antitrust laws regarding mergers."

While the move may seem to represent a small bureaucratic step in response to a White House order from last July, the agencies are led by Lina Khan and Jonathan Kanter, two noted Big Tech skeptics who say antitrust enforcement must abandon the overly permissive attitudes that led to a rise in corporate concentration.

The agencies, which split up competition enforcement, called for input from lawyers and economists, as well as "unions, workers, farmers, ranchers" and others who have had little say in merger analysis since the late 1970s. Such analyses have tended to focus on deals that eliminate direct competitors and could raise prices for consumers.

The enforcers also asked for information on harms to workers, suppliers, innovation and other areas, and they questioned whether current legal interpretations were adequately capturing competitive concerns in digital markets. The FTC and Justice Department suggested current guidelines — which aren't official law, but do shape how the government uses its limited resources — might be missing problems that arise when services are free or used across multiple devices.

Big tech companies have often grown through mega-acquisitions, although an FTC report unveiled in September showed how small deals that largely escaped government scrutiny also contributed to firms' growth. On Tuesday, Microsoft announced it's buying Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion. Kanter, a longtime Google critic, had previously represented Microsoft.

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Bulletins