There’s a dirty secret in the incredible growth of Silicon Valley’s tech giants: it’s a cheat. Historically, US antitrust regulators would be deeply concerned about mergers with major competitors in concentrated markets (“mergers to monopoly”) and acquisitions of small companies to neutralize future competitive threats (“catch and kill”). And while often permitted, vertical integration (“platform monopolies” where the company that owns a key service competes with its own customers) would at least merit close review. But regulators have mostly been giving a pass to mergers and acquisitions in the tech space.
And that’s had huge consequences. To a casual observer, companies like Google—now a division of parent company Alphabet—seem like energetic idea factories, spinning out new divisions at a bewildering rate. But a closer look reveals that Google’s real source of “innovation” is its wallet as much as its brain trust: the company buys other companies more often than most of us buy groceries. Two of Google’s signature products—Search and Gmail—are in-house projects, but the vast majority of its other successes came from snapping up other companies. (And it’s hardly alone in this regard: Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and the other titans of Silicon Valley have all grown primarily through gobbling up other companies, rather than by making their own winning products).
After years of complacency, U.S. financial regulators are finally asking awkward, pointed questions about these mergers.
A poster child for what’s wrong with merger-driven growth is the Google-Fitbit acquisition, which would see the dominant wearable fitness tracker company disappear into the Googleplex, along with its massive trove of sensitive user data. That’s where you come in. We want to ask the Department of Justice to stop this merger, and we want stories from Fitbit owners to help us explain why. For example:
- Did your employer force (or “strongly encourage”) you to wear a Fitbit in order to receive company health benefits?
- Did you buy a Fitbit because you didn’t want to give Google even more of your data?
- Does the Google-Fitbit merger make you feel like there’s no point in opting out of Google data-collection because they’ll just buy any company that has a successful alternative?
If you’ve got an on-point personal story about your Fitbit, we want to hear about it! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.