Big tech companies have spared no expense gobbling up competitors in recent years even as lawmakers hammer out historic antitrust legislation intended to curb their most anti-competitive impulses.
That’s according to a new report The Tech Oversight project shared exclusively with Gizmodo, which claims Alphabet, Amazon, Meta, and Apple combined spent at least $32 billion on acquisitions since 2019. Even if that figure sounds large, it’s almost certainly far less than the true amount tech firms spent, since the financial details surrounding large chunks of acquisitions since 2019 remain unknown to the public. The findings come as lawmakers in the House and Senate desperately work to push forward a vote on two pieces of key antitrust legislation before the November 2022 midterms.
In the report, The Oversight Project accused leading tech firms of using their dominant presence to, “either capture or kill competitors in the marketplace.” Those tactics, the report argues, are all the more reason for lawmakers to support the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, and the Open App Markets Act, two bills supported by a wide range of tech critics and utterly despised by Big Tech.
Amazon stood out among its tech peers in the report, reportedly spending at least $16 billion on 19 acquisitions over the past three years. Google owner Alphabet trailed behind, reportedly spending at least $11.87 billion to acquire 25 companies. Meta and Apple, on the other hand, spent significantly less with the report estimating the two poured $2.51 billion and $1.62 billion into acquisitions respectively. Four of the 19, or around 20%, of the companies Apple acquired involved virtual or augmented reality, a potential sign it’s ramping up efforts to deliver a long rumored virtual reality headset.
“To curb Big Tech’s most predatory practices, passing antitrust legislation is a realistic first step that we need to take,” Tech Oversight Project Executive Director Sacha Haworth said in a statement. “We need Senate Majority Leader Schumer to fulfill his promise and bring the package to a vote, so we can also advance the laundry list of legislative items needed to protect businesses, families, and children and teens from companies that have abused and profited at their expense.’
Big Tech’s bold acquisition plan has played out most brazenly in recent months via one company in particular: Amazon. In less than three months, Amazon announced its intention to acquire concierge healthcare provider OneMedical, Roomba maker iRobot, and warehouse robotics company Cloostermans. Though Amazon didn’t disclose financial terms for Cloostermans, the OneMedical and iRobot deals combined are worth $5.6 billion.
“In the post-Roe world, the uptick in health care and surveillance acquisitions is frankly disgusting and paints a dystopian picture for what digital competition and privacy will look like if Big Tech remains unchecked,” Haworth said. “We simply need to do more than wait idly by for Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon to self-regulate—they never will.”
Buying up firms on its own, of course, is neither new nor necessarily remarkable. In Big Tech’s case though, the Oversight Project report argues the companies uniquely used their market dominance and deep pockets to, “create an uneven playing field that chokes off innovation, bleeds small businesses, and limits consumer choice.”
Similarly, U.S. regulators, like Justice Department Assistant Attorney and noted Big Tech critic Jonathan Kanter have expressed concerns that some of the types of acquisitions laid out in the Oversight Project could stifle competition.
“When a merger combines competitors, it increases the risk of oligopoly behavior,” Kanter said earlier this week at the Georgetown Antitrust Law Symposium. “Like concerted action, oligopoly behavior exacerbated by mergers deprives the marketplace of independent decision-making centers and warrants intervention.”
Supporters of antitrust legislation crawling its way through Congress, like The Tech Oversight Project, believe their passage could provide meaningful roadblocks to slow down major tech firm’s opposition race. Those efforts at increased tech regulation, according to a growing variety of polling, enjoy wide bipartisan support, something about as common as Bigfoot sightings in 2022 America.
Case in point, a February Morning Consult survey found that 67% of U.S. adults believe the benefits large tech companies provide don’t outweigh the dangers posed by their increased power. Prior to that, another survey released by Vox and left-leaning firm Data for Progress found 59% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans said Big Tech’s economic power presented a “problem” for the U.S. economy. Additionally, some 55% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans said they supported breaking up Big Tech.
Yet, despite all that seeming support, the very bills aimed at roadblocking tech’s monopolistic impulses are arguably nowhere closer to becoming laws than they were nine months ago. Earlier in the year, Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer all but guaranteed the senator would hold a vote on the American Innovation and Choice Online Act during the summer. Then, Schumer suddenly went silent on the topic, much to the annoyance of antitrust activists nationwide. More than a dozen progressive house lawmakers wrote a letter to Schumer in July urging him to hold a vote on the bills before a month-long recess in August, but those pleas went unanswered. Recent reports suggest Schumer overestimated how many votes were in the bag and ultimately decided to sit on the bill.
At least part of the explanation for the momentum slowdown stems from the mind-boggling amount of financial resource Big Tech’s invested to kill the bills. Since 2021, the four big tech companies reportedly spent a gargantuan $95 million on lobbying according to a recent Bloomberg analysis. Amazon, which arguably stands the most to lose if the bills under consideration pass, reportedly spent a record-breaking $4.98 million in lobbying in just the second quarter.
The clock’s ticking. If the bills still don’t pass before the November midterms, they may never pass at all, according to progressive lawmakers and advocates.
“The closer you get to midterms, the less likely I think Republican members of Congress are going to be to hand Joe Biden bipartisan victories, which underscores the urgency of getting this done ASAP,” Accountable Tech’s co-founder Jesse Lehrich said in a June CNBC interview. “There is a very real but narrow window for these two bills.”
And while some reports suggest Schumer’s interested in bringing those bills up for a vote in the coming weeks, lawmakers speaking in a recent Time report say they’ve all but given up on that actually happening. Sources speaking in that article alleged Schumer may be purposely delaying the bill to avoid making its proponents the sources of Big Tech attacks during their reelection bids, or simply burying the bill down lower on Democrats’ voting priorities. Advocates like Fight for the Future’s Executive Director Evan Greer don’t buy that.
“Let’s make one thing clear: this is not about a ‘busy legislative calendar’ or ‘competing priorities’ or ‘not having the votes,” Greer said in a statement this week. “This is about corruption, plain and simple, and the nauseating influence of Big Tech money in DC.”
You can read the report in full below: