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FTC Chief Says Willing to Break Up Companies Amid Big Tech Probe

Aug 13, 2019 | ,

By Bloomberg

The head of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said he’s prepared to break up major technology platforms if necessary by undoing their past mergers as his agency investigates whether companies including Facebook Inc. are harming competition.

FTC Chairman Joe Simons, who is leading a broad review of the technology sector, said in an interview Tuesday that breaking up a company is challenging, but could be the right remedy to rein in dominant companies and restore competition.

“If you have to, you do it,” Simons said about breaking up tech companies. “It’s not ideal because it’s very messy. But if you have to you have to.”

Simons is overseeing a tech task force to examine conduct in the industry and could move to unwind mergers if investigators find the deals were anticompetitive. The agency has opened a broad investigation into Facebook, including whether the company acquired startups to thwart competition, according to people familiar with the matter.

Facebook bought photo-sharing site Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp, a messaging service, in 2014. The FTC approved both acquisitions at the time. Critics including Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes have called for antitrust enforcers to unwind those deals.

U.S. antitrust enforcers could move to unwind the acquisitions even though they previously won approval, Simons said. The FTC could say “we made a mistake,” he said. He would need a court to approve such a move.

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