That means all the deals. The F.T.C. wants the companies to provide documentation on “the terms, scope, structure, and purpose” of every transaction. No clandestine acquihire is too small for scrutiny under this order.
• Last year, Alphabet spent $1 billion on deals not deemed big enough to name.
• Apple reported more than $600 million in costs related to a bevy of small deals in its latest fiscal year.
Go back a decade, and the number of deals caught in the F.T.C.’s net will number in the hundreds.
The big threat: Ultimately, the F.T.C. could unwind mergers if it thinks they harmed consumers by stifling competition.
Facebook has been here before. The company has been in the F.T.C.’s crosshairs for a while, with the regulator opening an antitrust inquiry into its acquisition practices last year — around the same time it was hit with a $5 billion fine for data privacy breaches. As a result, it changed its behavior in “pre-emptive and defensive ways,” the NYT’s Mike Isaac wrote at the time. Will the other tech giants also now reconsider their acquisitive ways?
On the other hand… This week, a federal judge approved Sprint and T-Mobile’s mega-merger against the wishes of state attorneys general, and President Trump praised trillion-dollar tech companies for pushing the stock market higher. And the F.T.C.’s words may not match its deeds, says Shira Ovide, writer of the NYT’s forthcoming tech newsletter:
Here’s a hard truth about legal investigations, particularly antitrust cases involving multiple tentacles of state and federal government: They take FOREVER. Today’s American tech stars could be irrelevant by the time there is any resolution. Insert cliche that “this time could be different,” but predicting government paralysis or inaction isn’t a bad bet these days. What are the odds that all this amounts to three years of shouting, and then nothing?
Oh, the irony: At the end of the F.T.C.’s press release, the agency asks readers to like its page on Facebook.
Counting the cost of the coronavirus
The coronavirus, now officially known as COVID-19, may have peaked, but the global economy will need time to recover.
Chinese officials reported the lowest number of new cases since the end of last month, and suggested that the outbreak may end by April. Other experts aren’t so sure, and the World Health Organization said the virus should be “public enemy No. 1,” with a vaccine at least 18 months away.