Washington Post: Microsoft has avoided the hot seat for years. Its new mega deal may change that.

January 19, 2022 Media

In the late 1990s, Microsoft became the target of the highest profile monopoly case in the history of the technology sector, an early precursor of the regulatory head winds that would later come to engulf fellow industry giants.

But since then, the digital behemoth has largely avoided antitrust scrutiny, even as it ballooned into a multitrillion dollar company and government pressure against its rivals skyrocketed.

But Microsoft’s blockbuster deal to buy video game giant Activision Blizzard could change all that and bring about another tectonic clash between the company and regulators.

The proposed $68.7 billion dollar acquisition, expected to close by June 2023 pending approval, would mark one of the biggest deals in the history of the acquisition-happy tech sector and make Microsoft the third-largest gaming company by revenue in the world, behind Sony and Tencent.

“Although Microsoft has remained out of the antitrust hot seat, they are no less deserving of oversight,” said Krista Brown, senior policy analyst for the anti-monopoly group American Economic Liberties Project. “This transaction should trigger renewed scrutiny.”

Now Microsoft could face the brunt of a firestorm whose flames it has helped fan.

The DOJ and FTC are hoping to wrap up their review of the merger guidelines this year, DOJ antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter said during a press call Tuesday. That’s notably before the Microsoft deal is set to close, meaning the review could help refine the federal government’s legal arguments if it decides to challenge the acquisition.