President of the Federal Trade Commission, Chairman Joe Simons, acknowledged in an interview on Tuesday that perhaps, just maybe, the result of an FTC working group investigation into technology giants violated competition laws them to split into smaller companies, according to reports in Reuters and Bloomberg.
Like Facebook is probably not shaking in their bootsies yet. Simons – who may have his hands tied to the ongoing status of the agency's broad scrutiny of the tech sector, but whose agency was accused of encoding Facebook in a recent privacy order – more or less only acknowledged that it was technically within his power to conduct business divisions.
"If you must, you will," Simons told Bloomberg. “It's not perfect because it's very messy. But if you must, you must. ”
As Bloomberg noted, the FTC's working group seemed particularly interested in whether Facebook secured its current form as a world-wide behemoth by purchasing subsidiaries such as Instagram and WhatsApp for the sole purpose of eliminating competition. The Department of Justice has launched its own antitrust investigation into the technology sector that appears to overlap with the FTC, though Simons offered some details on how the agencies coordinated.
"It is certainly possible that we could investigate the same company at the same time but only for different behaviors," Simons told Bloomberg.
However, he reiterated to Bloomberg that Facebook's acquisition of Instagram of 2012 is a particularly open question to the FTC as of now:
Simons did not confirm details of the Facebook investigation beyond what the company revealed in July, when it said the FTC had initiated a broad probe into several business areas – social media, digital advertising and mobile applications. Each investigation of its previous acquisitions would focus on what would have happened to these companies if they had not been purchased by Facebook, Simons said.
"There is a question of what made Instagram successful as successful as it is," Simons said. "Was it the fact that the seed was already there and it would germinate no matter what or where the seed sprouted because Facebook acquired it?"
The consolidation of the tech sector in recent years and growing hostility to companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google in DC certainly seem to have focused on issues of scale and competition, and both leading Democratic candidates for the presidency such as Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump's administration has urged regulators to step in. in the case of Trump, the anger obviously has more to do with conspiratorial and baseless accusations that tech companies secretly support Democrats than that … some other consistent motive.) But there is reason to be skeptical if this is just talk or investigations of The FTC and DOJ will actually result in divisions anytime soon.
As Verge noted, the growing backlash to technical consolidation follows a long period of time where competing ition and antitrust watchdogs did basically nothing to stop it – and the pendulum only swings back slowly in the other direction. In June, New Street Research analyst Blair Levin told the information that "all concrete actions and coherent thinking on these things" will probably take at least a year and a half to implement, meaning the next presidential administration.