Executive at public policy, government relations and antitrust analysis company
- Update on US antitrust and executive branch activity involving Alphabet/Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) and Meta/Facebook (NASDAQ: META)
- Possibility of new actions against Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) in light of international complaints and pending purchase of Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI)
- US midterm election results and legislative branch actions, as well as efforts by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and DoJ (Department of Justice)
We’ve historically done a status check on some of the major cases against Alphabet and Meta, but I doubt much has changed since we last spoke [see Big Tech – Q2 2022 Antitrust Update – Google & Facebook Focus – 13 May 2022]. Could you give an update on Alphabet/Google and the considerations in terms of what could or should be happening next?
You mentioned the initial DoJ [Department of Justice] case focused on search and the fact it’s supposed to go to trial in September 2023. What are your expectations? How long might the trial last? Assuming things commence as anticipated, when might we see some type of initial decision?
As an aside, you suggested that you didn’t think it was a foregone conclusion that the Supreme Court would take such a case. To what extent is that important? Does it help either party?
You outlined some of the specifics regarding each of the four major cases, but what do you see coming out of them? What decisions or settlements could occur?
The power of the Google Play Store has been a topic of conversation – as you look down the different cases and what’s being focused on, some might say this case is where Google might be most vulnerable. Do you have any thoughts on that particular topic?
What’s the latest with Meta’s Facebook and Instagram? There are fewer cases, but there are a couple.
Could you elaborate on the Within case? What is it and why does the US government care about it? If most people think the government is going to lose, why even bring the case? Is it trying to make a point or is something bigger going on?
When you were talking about Within and how Google has built up its adtech prowess through M&A, you mentioned DoubleClick and AdMob. Some people think Google might offer to break up its adtech businesses to appease the government. Do you think that would work, particularly in the cases that are predominantly focused on that topic? You alluded to the possibility of folding in adtech. Is this a way to potentially get around it?
Was there another adtech business in addition to DoubleClick and AdMob that we should be thinking about in the same context?
Regarding Meta and Facebook, the UK is saying, “You acquired Giphy, now you’re going to have to divest it.” How significant do you think that is given the transaction was around USD 0.3bn? What does that say about where the world may be going on this topic?
If we spin forward, when might the primary FTC [Federal Trade Commission] case against Meta go to trial and be decided?
What do you think will happen with respect to Meta? You’ve indicated in past Forum Interviews that you think the cases against it are weaker than they are against Alphabet, for example.
With Microsoft and Activision Blizzard, it seems Europe and the UK are somewhat leading the way and there have been some investigatory efforts. You highlighted the FTC in the US railing against Meta buying a company that most of us have never heard of. Now we have Microsoft buying a USD 70bn company and the FTC has apparently said it might take action, sooner rather than later. The EU has indicated a deadline for findings in March 2023 and plans to pursue a more in-depth investigation. How do you see this playing out now?
Microsoft publicly stated when the Activision deal was announced – and even more recently – that the transaction would be completed by mid-2023, so that’s an 18-month runway, if you will. If the FTC were to file suit, could you see a scenario where it becomes more expedited vs the other two cases we’ve discussed, given the time sensitivity?
The FTC released an extensive statement about rigorously enforcing the federal ban on unfair methods of competition. Why is it putting out a 15-page legal document on this premise, which I think is relatively well understood? What are they trying to communicate?
Who else could be in the crosshairs, other than the companies you’re representing? Who is potentially vulnerable?
We’ve had the midterms, but I think it leaves a lot of things unsettled – it’s not clear who has a majority in the Senate. The House has a modest Republican majority. We still have a democratic executive. What do you think that means for what happens next?
It seems a package of antitrust-related bills has been passed and is related more to resources going to antitrust authorities and disclosing of foreign subsidiaries – when you’re talking about mergers, or the thing you alluded to about the Texas case being moved to New York, being able to choose the venue. Will those become law?
What final comments would you share about what 2023 could look like? What should we focus on?
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