Google's 2013 acquisition of Waze could face FTC scrutiny

David Murphy

Google’s $1.1bn (£854m) acquisition of social navigation app Waze, which dates back to 2013, could be the subject of a US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation, according to a report from Bloomberg.

At the time, the FTC approved the deal, but the report cites “antitrust experts” who believe 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.

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, without referencing any specific ones. But Robert Litan, a partner at Korein Tillery LLC and former Justice Department antitrust official told Bloomberg: “Certainly, Waze is one of them.”

Also on Tuesday, the FTC asked to see internal documents from Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft to see if they “are making potentially anticompetitive acquisitions of nascent or potential competitors.”

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

Antitrust regulators in the UK did take a closer look at the Waze deal, asking Google to keep Waze separate from the rest of its businesses while conducting the probe. The regulator eventually concluded that the deal would not damage competition in the UK citing Apple’s Maps app as a rival.

As the Bloomberg report notes, 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.”