Antitrust regulators in the UK, Germany and Australia launched a unified attack on the dominance of internet giants on Tuesday, warning that the pandemic was no excuse to approve deals.
The three regulators, who have been at the forefront of global attempts to curb big tech companies like Facebook and Google, said the pandemic has accelerated the concentration of power in the hands of a few, and have warned that they would take an increasingly skeptical point of view. stowage.
In a virtual event to launch the statement on Tuesday morning, UK Competition and Markets Authority chief Andrea Coscelli said he expected “huge pressure” from business, citing the need to rebuild after the pandemic as the reason for justifying mergers and investments. .
“We are clearly in a difficult economic situation,” he said, “and it’s attractive, someone comes to you with investment plans. But . . . it is really about the medium term, it is about having market structures that will serve consumers day after day. ”
The three regulators said the pandemic “should not be used to cause a relaxation of the standards against which mergers are ultimately assessed.”
The German cartel office, the Bundeskartellamt, directly attacked Facebook’s business model in 2019 by preventing the company from sharing user data without consent. Meanwhile, Australia recently decided to force Silicon Valley giants Facebook and Google to pay for the news, and the CMA has waged antitrust battles against Google and Apple.
Rod Sims, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, said Australia had “some very well-known digital platform issues where most platforms have really built their strong positions through acquisitions. ” He said: “Together we can make a strong voice heard on these important issues.”
Sims added, “There is a clear incentive for businesses to acquire businesses, gain market power and drive up prices. . . We now have a whole body of knowledge, often accumulated from advisers to merging parties, that suggests that mergers are always good, but they are not, and this view is hurting our economy.
All three regulators said the pandemic had exacerbated dangerous concentration trends and said they had an increasingly skeptical view of the benefits of the mergers.
Andreas Mundt, head of the German cartel bureau, said: “We [were] already grappling with platform ecosystems, digital gatekeepers and their effects on the economy and antitrust laws. . . But of course the pandemic has been an accelerator here and we have seen that GAFA [Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon] has been a winner during this crisis.
Coscelli said global regulators have also approved mergers in the past that have led to negative outcomes for consumers in markets, including accounting, where the Big Four – Deloitte, KPMG, EY and PwC – dominate.
“Very often when you look at the markets you realize that at some point in the past there was a merger that really shouldn’t have happened,” he said, citing the Google’s purchase of online advertising company DoubleClick in 2007 as “the source of a number of the problems.”
In another warning to companies, regulators said they were also increasingly less likely to accept companies’ promises to change their behavior. In the past, global regulators accepted behavioral and structural “cures” from merging groups seeking to strike a deal.
Sims said, “Behavioral remedies ask businesses to do something they have no interest in doing. . . We find that behavioral engagements are not going as planned. . . They are largely not working.
His comments come after the European Commission cleared Google’s acquisition of tech company Fitbit in December, after Google promised a series of “behavioral remedies,” which ACCC did not agree to.