Amazon's logo on a phone screen above One Medical's logo.
Image: Murat Gok/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

One day soon, Amazon and the FTC could have their showdown

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today I’m back on the looming clash between Amazon and the FTC. Now we just have to figure out what it’ll be about. Speaking of clashes, Google is taking on Apple via TikTok, and the CEO of Pegasus is out.

What Signify signifies

Amazon may be exploring another splashy health care acquisition. The tech giant is one of several companies, including CVS, that are attempting to buy the low-budget, at-home care provider Signify, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Any deal would be valued around $8 billion, but if Amazon makes the purchase, it could worsen the already fraught relationship between the ecommerce and cloud giant and Lina Khan’s FTC.

If this possible deal sounds familiar, it’s because Amazon’s been making a lot of plays of late as part of its longtime ambitions in health care.

  • In July, the company announced it’s planning to buy the boutique primary care company One Medical for almost $4 billion.

Its growing telehealth program, Amazon Care, is also beginning a new partnership for mental health services. All this together already seemed to signal that the epic bout between Amazon and the FTC could soon be at hand, even before news of Amazon’s interest in Signify broke.

  • Amazon has already come under FTC scrutiny for dark patterns in Prime subscriptions. The company, for its part, has cried that the agency’s information demands are a “tremendous burden.”
  • Khan, the FTC chair, made her name as a critic of Amazon’s competitive practices, and she now has a Democratic majority, which she didn’t when the agency had to let the company consummate its MGM deal.
  • Plus, the FTC is looking into a data-protection rule-making that could easily touch on health information, and any medical acquisition raises huge privacy questions.
  • In addition, a recent Washington Post report suggested Amazon Care took a “fast and frugal” approach to taking care of people.

Let’s be clear, though: Just because a big company wants to get into a sensitive area like health care doesn’t mean there are antitrust concerns.

  • Amazon isn’t obviously dominating some aspect of health care delivery right now, and it’s looking to buy companies that seem to operate in competitive markets.
  • When that happens, legal experts tend not to see too many competition issues, and analysts usually expect deals to go through.

But there is also the reality that the FTC seems to be spoiling for a fight.

  • Maybe the commissioners feel the One Medical acquisition doesn’t really warrant a court challenge by itself, and Amazon could end up losing out to one of the other suitors that the Journal reported are looking into Signify.
  • But as Amazon starts to make more deals, FTC leaders may decide there’s more paperwork they want to require, more conduct to examine and more legal theories to try out (like the rarely used ideas around violations that may just be beginning).
  • Of course, health care isn’t really a classic domain of the FTC, but product quality is something Khan and others who want to refresh approaches to competition law say is crucial to measure antitrust harm.

Health care is so massive and complicated — and so concentrated in the hands of other, non-tech corporate giants — that Andy Jassy is not going to take it all over with just one deal. Your Prime-branded pharmacy that also insures you and approves your emotional support Roomba though an appointment on Alexa isn’t months away from being reality. But if that’s where Amazon wants to go, the company’s lawyers know they’ll have to deal with the FTC on the way.

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

In Washington

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation told FTX to stop making false claims about being FDIC insured. The agency said FTX U.S. was among a group of companies misrepresenting “the extent and manner of deposit insurance.”

Meta just hired another Washington insider. Blake Peterson will join Meta to work on content policy regulation, transitioning from her current role as acting digital freedom coordinator for the State Department.

In the states

Tomorrow marks the deadline for comment on California’s data privacy rules. Tech industry groups such as the Computer & Communications Industry Association submitted comments to the California Privacy Protection Agency in an attempt to reduce the burden of the rules, which go into effect next year.

Google took to TikTok to pressure Apple over texting interoperability. Google has pushed for RCS as the default messaging standard, claiming it would facilitate a more dynamic messaging experience compared to the SMS (green bubble) default Apple uses for iPhone-to-Android communication. Apple, of course, probably enjoys the fact that green text bubbles have become a source of great shame for some young Android owners.

Some Apple employees aren’t happy with the return-to-office push. Apple Together, the group behind the #AppleToo movement, is circulating a petition against Tim Cook’s three-day return-to-office plan.

Sponsored content from Cisco

How cybercrime is going small time: Cybercrime is often thought of on a relatively large scale. Massive breaches lead to painful financial losses, bankrupting companies and causing untold embarrassment, splashed across the front pages of news websites worldwide.

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On Protocol

As carbon dioxide removal explodes in popularity, the need for standards has become more apparent. Some issues include displacing local communities in the name of forest preservation and raising the price of food in the Global South by displacing farmers for land-based forest restoration.

There’s a paradox at the heart of the digital wallets battle: The “best” wallet for consumers is fully interoperable, but that arrangement also provides the least value to companies. As things stand now, company value seems to be winning out over customer value.

Around the world

Samsung broke ground on a chipmaking research center in South Korea. The research complex is expected to garner around $15 billion in investments by 2028.

The Israeli cybersecurity firm behind Pegasus is being restructured. Plans include laying off around 100 employees and replacing the CEO. The U.S. government blacklisted NSO Group for allegations of misuse of the spyware, which has been used against heads of state, political dissidents and journalists.

More details emerged over India’s use of facial recognition to combat civil unrest. Through a public records request, the Internet Freedom Foundation was able to see that the Delhi police considered facial recognition matches with 80% accuracy a positive match.

In data

70%: That’s the percent of executives who said they’re expanding permanent remote work, according to a recent PwC Pulse Survey. At the same time, 22% of those surveyed said they wanted to cut real estate investment, making it the top area of reduction.

Sponsored content from Cisco

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$15,000 software update?

What’s the most you would pay for a software update? Elon Musk announced he wants some Tesla owners to pay $15,000 for the new version of Full-Self Driving (which, as the California Department of Motor Vehicles pointed out, does not actually mean it can fully drive itself). The software most recently cost $12,000, and at launch cost “only” $5,000.

Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!

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