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Technology Google’s Waze Deal Is a Likely Target in New FTC Antitrust Sweep

12:15  14 february  2020
12:15  14 february  2020 Source:   bloomberg.com

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Google has been contacted by the Federal Trade Commission over their .1 billion purchase of mobile mapping app Waze — sparking off an antitrust investigation into whether the deal would have adverse effects on competition in the marketplace, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Google and Waze , two of the leading companies in the mapping industry, may be a match made in heaven. But Google ’ s .1 billion acquisition of the social driving company has, not surprisingly, signaled some alarm bells with antitrust authorities. Google confirmed today that the Federal Trade

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Federal Trade Commission just ordered major technology companies to fork over details on waves of small acquisitions made during the last decade. A more sizable deal is also seen as a target for the regulator: Google’s $1.1 billion purchase of mapping app Waze.

The FTC quickly approved the 2013 transaction, but antitrust experts say the regulator will take a second look because it combined two popular digital mapping services under the same corporate roof, eliminated a fast-growing Google rival and solidified the internet giant’s grip on valuable data.

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The Journal’ s sources say that the FTC likely won’t ask Google to unwind the deal and will instead only try to decide whether Google should be barred from fully integrating Waze with its Google Maps service. His first smartphone was a BlackBerry but he has since become a loyal Android user.

Google officially acquired the crowd-sourced mapping and traffic app Waze earlier this month, but the .1 billion deal is hitting a last-minute jam. According to the New York Post, Google didn't file a review with the FTC because Waze makes less than million annually, which is below the bar for

Bilal Sayyed, the FTC’s director for the Office of Policy Planning, told reporters on Tuesday that the agency is planning to examine many deals that were reviewed in the past, while declining to share specific examples.

“Certainly, Waze is one of them,” said Robert Litan, a partner at Korein Tillery LLC and former Justice Department antitrust official. Google declined to comment.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has acquired dozens of startups over the years to add technical talent, fill product holes, gather new users and accumulate more data. Few of these transactions rang traditional antitrust alarm bells, but in aggregate they helped the company build the western world’s largest online search, digital mapping and advertising businesses. Global watchdogs are now investigating whether this dominance is harming business customers and consumers. Reassessing past acquisitions is part of this effort, and the Waze deal is a clear candidate.

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The Federal Trade Commission is preparing to launch the most comprehensive antitrust investigation of Google ' s business practices yet, according to a new report. Requests to other companies about their relationship with the search giant will likely come during the course of the investigation.

Google ' s .1 billion acquisition of social mapping startup Waze has drawn the attention of the Federal Trade Commission after all. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Google has been contacted by FTC lawyers intending to conduct an antitrust review of the acquisition. Google declined to comment

“It was literally Google acquiring its number one competitor in maps,” said Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute, which is pushing for a crackdown on big internet platforms. “It was a bad deal that should have been blocked.”

a screenshot of a cell phone: Under the Radar© Bloomberg Under the Radar

Back in 2013, the acquisition was a strategic coup. Google faced two existential threats at the time: social media and smartphones. Social networks, like Facebook, were stealing eyeballs and advertising, while mobile apps risked displacing key Google services, including its digital maps, that were mainly used on desktop computers. Waze was riding both trends. The startup’s mobile app drew in dedicated fans who posted frequent updates on traffic and interacted with one another, generating social and location-related data in new ways that Google couldn’t match.

When Google announced the deal, Mark Mahaney, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said the “move eliminates Waze as a potential acquisition target for competitors who could use the app’s collection of data and 50 million users to bolster their own location-based products.”

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FTC To Review Google ' s Waze Acquisition On Antitrust Grounds Google ' s .1 billion acquisition of social mapping startup Waze has drawn the attention of the

Google reportedly failed to submit the deal for clearance by the FTC because Waze ’s U.S. revenue is less than million. But in view of the fact Last week, a U.S. consumer organization, “Consumer Watchdog,” called on the antitrust agencies to block Google ’ s acquisition of Waze , because it will

Antitrust regulators in the U.K. launched a more in-depth investigation of the deal, asking Google to keep Waze separate from the rest of its businesses while conducting the probe. The final report from the Office of Fair Trading, published in December 2013, cited concerns from other companies that Google was knocking out a threat to its mapping service. One complainant said “the acquisition removed Google’s closest competitor.”

Read more: How Tech’s New Monopolies Test Old Antitrust Thinking: QuickTake

a man holding a wii remote in his hand: The Wall Street Journal's Future Of Everything Festival© Getty Images The Wall Street Journal's Future Of Everything Festival

Noam Bardin

Photographer: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Trustbusters didn’t have to rely on rivals. Waze Chief Executive Officer Noam Bardin offered the same assessment two months before joining Google. “We’re the only reasonable competition to [Google] in this market of creating maps that are really geared for mobile, for real-time, for consumers -- for the new world that we’re moving into,“ he said at an industry conference.

In late 2012, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook suggested his customers should use map apps, including Waze, sparking a surge of downloads.

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By 2013, the Israeli startup was close to a deal to pre-install its app on devices made by an unnamed smartphone company, according to the U.K. investigation. There was also the potential to work with Facebook Inc. to enable people to chat and meet up with friends driving to the same location, which could have given Waze more users, the report said. Google’s acquisition abruptly halted those initiatives.

The regulator concluded that the deal would not damage competition in the U.K., citing Apple’s Maps app as a rival. But last year, it asked economists to evaluate some of its past decisions, including the Waze ruling. That study found that the U.K. agency didn’t consider how Google and Waze would make money from their maps -- even though this was already relevant when the deal happened.

“The merger with Waze might have made Google an even more relevant provider of location data, reinforcing its competitive position for the provision of online advertising across all its services,” according the study from consulting firm Lear.

European regulators have since targeted the data that big internet companies collect as a competition issue. If the FTC takes a similar approach, the agency could probe how much of Waze’s driving data feeds back into Google’s ads business. “These free map apps are just data-suction tools,” Hubbard said. “Regulators are starting to figure it out.”

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Google has kept Waze a separate service, but the internet giant has used data from the app to improve its ads, according to RBC’s Mahaney. “New ad formats in Google Maps have clear similarities to existing formats in Waze (coincidence?),” the analysts wrote in a September note to investors. “Google has now collected enough data through Waze to effectively roll out broader solutions for advertisers in Google Maps and provide them attractive returns on investment without severely impacting the user experience.”

Read more: Google Flips the Switch on Maps, Its Next Big Money Maker

Fiona Scott Morton, a Yale University economist and former Justice Department antitrust official, said Waze may be of particular interest to the FTC because location data makes Google’s dominant Search advertising much more potent. “Another party that wanted to be good at search advertising would need a good map,” she added.

On Tuesday, the FTC demanded internal documents from Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. to see if they “are making potentially anticompetitive acquisitions of nascent or potential competitors.”

The regulator is eyeing deals that weren’t reported under the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Act, which requires companies to tell enforcement agencies about acquisitions of a certain size. While Google declared plans to buy Waze, it never filed the purchase under HSR, likely relying on an exemption related to the startup’s lack of U.S. revenue at the time.

The FTC can investigate deals even when there’s no HSR filing. The agency also has the power to probe acquisitions that it cleared in the past. In some ways, the recent attention on the tech sector in Washington and Europe is an attempt to revisit the earlier laissez-faire approach to industry consolidation.

“They weren’t examined carefully by the agencies,” said Scott Morton. “Now that they understand that these companies have acquired market power, they’re interested in finding out how that happened.”

--With assistance from David McLaughlin and Aoife White.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Bergen in San Francisco at mbergen10@bloomberg.net;Ben Brody in Washington, D.C. at btenerellabr@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alistair Barr at abarr18@bloomberg.net, Andrew Pollack

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

Incoming Google Maps redesign will fix the most annoying thing about the app .
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