yesAndrea PetersonNone
×

Get access to Protocol

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Politics

Why EU interest in small tech acquisitions shouldn’t be a surprise

The FTC announced a similar initiative last week, and experts say that cooperation between the agency and Europe is natural.

European Commission competition chief Margrethe Vestager

European Commission executive vice president Margrethe Vestager wants to ensure that any such acquisition is "pro-competition, it is pro-innovation, and not the opposite."

Photo: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images

There was a sense of tech regulation déjà vu this week: In an echo of a policy laid out by the FTC earlier this month, the European Union is now interested in inspecting smaller tech acquisitions, too. But don't be too surprised by the parallelism.

On the sidelines of announcing the European Commission's new digital strategy this week, European Commission executive vice president Margrethe Vestager said that she wanted to look into acquisitions of smaller European startups made by U.S. technology giants.

Get what matters in tech, in your inbox every morning. Sign up for Source Code.

"What we will try to do is to find ways to make sure that we see these acquisitions because sometimes these businesses are quite small, and maybe the sums, the turnover will not meet our thresholds," Vestager said in an interview with CNBC. She added that she wants to make sure that any such acquisition is "pro-competition, it is pro-innovation, and not the opposite."

That bears striking resemblance to the FTC decision, announced last week, to examine a decade's worth of past mergers and acquisitions by Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft — including those below the threshold set by the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act. Under that law, companies don't have to report to the agency acquisitions that fall below its oversight threshold. (The threshold is $90 million now, but will rise to $94 million soon.)

Because tech giants operate on a global scale, nations must cooperate if they want to effectively review and take action against acquisitions to protect competition and consumer rights. And, of course, that means that when inquiries or policy approaches pop up in one place, they can often appear elsewhere, too.

That seems to be the case with antitrust and competition enforcement authorities' interest in smaller deals made by big tech companies.

"I expect the FTC to cooperate closely with other countries in pursuing these issues and to share what it learns with other antitrust agencies," said William Kovacic, a former FTC chair and law professor at the George Washington University.

FTC spokesperson Betsy Lordan said via email that she couldn't "comment on the specifics." But she added that the agency is "in continual contact" with European counterparts about antitrust matters. The agency's website notes that it "works with more than 100 foreign competition and consumer protection authorities around the world," through both "formal and informal agreements."

It is currently unclear which specific smaller deals the U.S. and EU authorities might seek to investigate, or how or whether they will team up to review acquisitions. But both authorities seem to be interested in the same issues, said Kovacic: "How do acquisitions by leading firms of new, small enterprises affect competition in the tech sector?"

Last week, Protocol published a list of smaller tech acquisitions that might catch the eye of the FTC. That included takeovers including the group messaging app Beluga, which was acquired by Facebook in 2011 and quickly shuttered after the social media giant launched its own app, Messenger. And DocVerse, a Microsoft Office collaboration service that was acquired by Alphabet and shuttered just one year later, but some of whose features live on Google Drive.

There are plenty of similar acquisitions that could pique the interest of European regulators. Twitter, for instance, acquired the London AI company Magic Pony for $150 million in 2016, then rolled it into Cortex, its group of machine learning researchers. Facebook acquired the London-based startup Bloomsbury AI, which uses natural language processing to process and analyze text, for $30 million. It was quickly shuttered. More recently, Apple in 2019 acquired the British startup Spectral Edge, which uses machine learning to improve smartphone images. The company no longer has a web presence.

There is a history of formal cooperation between EU and U.S. on competition issues, including reviews of mergers and acquisitions, formalized in a nearly 30-year-old agreement. And the authorities have frequently worked on overlapping investigations, such as the FTC and EU's ongoing inquiries into allegations regarding anticompetitive behavior by the chipmaker Broadcom.


Correction: Updated to correct Margrethe Vestager's title on Feb. 21, 2020.

People

Google’s trying to build a more inclusive, less chaotic future of work

Javier Soltero, the VP of Workspace at Google, said time management is everything.

With everyone working in new places, Google believes time management is everything.

Image: Google

Javier Soltero was still pretty new to the G Suite team when the pandemic hit. Pretty quickly, everything about Google's hugely popular suite of work tools seemed to change. (It's not even called G Suite anymore, but rather Workspace.) And Soltero had to both guide his team through a new way of working and help them build the tools to guide billions of Workspace users.

This week, Soltero and his team announced a number of new Workspace features designed to help people manage their time, collaborate and get stuff done more effectively. It offered new tools for frontline workers to communicate better, more hardware for hybrid meetings, lots of Assistant and Calendar features to make planning easier and a picture-in-picture mode so people could be on Meet calls without really having to pay attention.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

Keep Reading Show less
Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Protocol | Policy

Far-right misinformation: Facebook's most engaging news

A new study shows that before and after the election, far-right misinformation pages drew more engagement than all other partisan news.

A new study finds that far right misinformation pulls in more engagement on Facebook than other types of partisan news.

Photo: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

In the months before and after the 2020 election, far-right pages that are known to spread misinformation consistently garnered more engagement on Facebook than any other partisan news, according to a New York University study published Wednesday.

The study looked at Facebook engagement for news sources across the political spectrum between Aug. 10, 2020 and Jan. 11, 2021, and found that on average, far-right pages that regularly trade in misinformation raked in 65% more engagement per follower than other far-right pages that aren't known for spreading misinformation.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Power

Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Latest Stories