New debate on whether Big Tech buy-ups are ‘killer acquisitions’

Big Tech companies have become, well, big — largely due to a slew of acquisitions over the years. Think of Facebook Inc.’s 2012 purchase of Instagram LLC; Amazon.com Inc.’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market Inc. in 2017; and Google LLC’s buy of Fitbit Inc. in early 2021.

The buy-ups have strengthened the companies’ dominance, but also raised concerns among lawmakers in the U.S. and the European Union about whether the deals thwart competition.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation will question whether Big Tech acquisitions are killers of nascent business at 10 a.m. May 7 during a virtual webinar titled “Killer Acquisitions” as part of the group’s Dynamic Antitrust Discussion Series.

Aurelien Portuese, ITIF’s director of antitrust and innovation policy, said the acquisitions can actually enable small companies to thrive and grow. Large tech companies can be major financiers of small startups that want to be acquired.

“The main point of the debate is to have a more balanced viewpoint of the complexity of these deals,” Portuese said. “How would Instagram have evolved without Facebook? It is very hard to evaluate that.”

The webinar will also evaluate proposals designed to limit or outright block Big Tech acquisitions.

The European Union, for example, is planning to scrutinize smaller deals in the technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries and accept referrals from national competition authorities of mergers that may be worth reviewing.

In the U.S., Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., in April introduced the “Bust Up Big Tech Act,” designed to break up Big Tech companies seeking to “dominate multiple industries simultaneously.” And Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., in February introduced the Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act that aims to help block anticompetitive mergers.

Matt Stoller, director of research at the American Economic Liberties Project, offered a counterpoint, saying these Big Tech mergers are absolutely problematic and lead to less competition in the marketplace as well as fewer choices for consumers.

Instagram, he said, could have turned into a meaningful competitor to Facebook if enforcers had blocked the acquisition.

“At some point, Instagram could have said, ‘We are trying to grow, we’re going to develop a social network’ — and could have competed with Facebook,” Stoller said.

Government

May 5FirstNet, an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce, will convene its open meeting from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
May 5The U.S. Department of Commerce and Department of Homeland Security will host an inaugural space cybersecurity symposium from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is the first in a series of events to connect commercial businesses with the Departments regarding cybersecurity measures and policies.
Industry, legal and think tank events
May 5The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation will host a webinar at 10 a.m. titled “What’s Next on the EU’s Proposed AI Law?” that explores key issues related to the debate over the European Commission’s proposed law to regulate artificial intelligence.
May 5The Wall Street Journal will host a risk and compliance forum that will explore topics including new laws and regulations on cybersecurity and privacy.
May 7The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation will host a virtual webinar at 10 a.m. titled “Killer Acquisitions” as part of its Dynamic Antitrust Discussion Series.


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