Biden will sign an executive order cracking down on Big Tech firms buying up smaller companies and hoarding user data

President Biden
President Biden speaks to reporters on July 8

  • Joe Biden will sign a sweeping executive order on Friday, which includes a crackdown on Big Tech.
  • Biden’s order will tell agencies to scrutinize Big Tech mergers more closely.
  • It will also tell the FTC to draw up rules for how tech companies can gather and use consumer data.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden will on Friday sign an executive order cracking down on the power of Big Tech firms, as first reported by The New York Times.

The fact-sheet for the wide-ranging executive order focusing on “promoting competition in the American economy” was posted by the White House Friday morning. Technology makes up just one part of the order, which also targets sectors like the job market, healthcare, and transportation – but it takes specific aim at Big Tech platforms.

The order will, first, tell federal agencies to scrutinize mergers involving Big Tech firms more closely, especially when these firms try to buy smaller companies that could one day become their competitors.

Second, the order says Big Tech platforms are “gathering too much personal information,” and will instruct the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to draw up rules and limitations on how Big Tech companies can hoover up consumer data.

The order also says Big Tech companies can use their troves of data to give themselves an advantage over smaller businesses, and asks the FTC to draw up rules “barring unfair methods of competition on internet marketplaces.”

On top of the orders specifically targeting Big Tech companies, Biden will also reportedly ask the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create new rules for broadband internet providers, and encourage the FCC to readopt net neutrality rules.

Big Tech companies including Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google are already under intense antitrust scrutiny in Washington.

In June, Congress introduced a series of bills directed at these four companies, and Biden appointed renowned Big Tech critic Lina Khan as head of the FTC, a move that prompted Amazon to ask that Khan be removed from any enforcement decisions involving the company.

Read more: Amazon is finally terrified of someone in Washington. That’s great news for America.

Facebook faces lawsuits for its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp in 2012 and 2014 respectively. In December 2020, the FTC and 46 states filed two lawsuits seeking to break off Instagram and WhatsApp from Facebook. The lawsuits allege Facebook acquired the companies to stifle competition.

Facebook responded that the lawsuit was an attempt to revise history, and that the acquisitions had been cleared by agencies at the time. “We have operated and continue to operate in a highly competitive space. Our acquisitions have been good for competition, good for advertisers and good for people,” it said in a statement at the time.

Amazon has also been the target of criticism from lawmakers, who claim that it can use consumer data to get a competitive advantage over third-party sellers on its platform. Biden’s executive order specifically cites an October 2020 House Judiciary Committee report which alleged that Amazon used data from third-party sellers to develop its own competing products. Amazon has repeatedly denied this claim.

Google was hit with an antitrust suit from 36 attorneys general on Thursday over its control of the Android Play Store – six months after attorneys general filed a lawsuit claiming it abused its dominance in online ad sales. Google called the latest suit “meritless”, saying it was not about “helping the little guy.”

Apple is not the subject of any lawsuits from lawmakers, but pushed back against two of the five bills introduced by Congress in June, claiming they would damage the security of iPhones and, by extension, users’ privacy.

The New York Times reported CEO Tim Cook personally rang House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to lobby against the bills.

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BuzzFeed in talks to go public through merger with 890 5th Avenue, a SPAC focused on media and telecom

GettyImages 1071861718
BuzzFeed News headquarters.

  • BuzzFeed is in talks to go public via a merger with 890 5th Avenue, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.
  • 890 5th Avenue is a special purpose acquisition company focused on media and entertainment.
  • The deal talks are not finalized and could still fall apart, according to Bloomberg.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

BuzzFeed is considering going public through a merger with the special purpose acquisition company 890 5th Avenue Partners, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

The terms of the deal aren’t publicly known at this point, and talks are ongoing and could still fall apart, according to Bloomberg.

BuzzFeed and 890 5th Avenue did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story.

BuzzFeed, a New York City-based digital media company, was founded in 2006 and completed its acquisition of HuffPost from Verizon in February, before laying off 47 staffers earlier this week.

Jonah Peretti, who cofounded BuzzFeed and serves as CEO of the combined companies, told staffers the layoffs were meant to “enable HuffPost to break even this year and eventually be profitable,” after losing $20 million last year and being on track to post similar losses again in 2021.

BuzzFeed also furloughed around 70 employees last year, including around 20 BuzzFeed News employees, during negotiations with its editorial union as it sought to losses across the company. BuzzFeed eventually laid off 50 employees in total, around 6% of its workforce, according to The Wrap.

890 5th Avenue raised $287.5 million through its initial public offering in January, according to a press release. The “blank check” company, which is named after the fictional Avengers mansion, said it plans to focus on media and entertainment businesses.

SPACs typically aim to first secure a stock-market listing and then acquire a private company, offering businesses an alternative way to go public than the traditional initial public offering (IPO) process. SPACs have skyrocketed in popularity over the past year, with 130 having gone public this year alone – more than in the first nine months of 2020.

But the boom has sparked concerns that there could be a SPAC bubble, triggering a recent wave of sell-offs.

The think tank Americans for Financial Reform and the Consumer Federation of America told Congress in a February letter that the SPAC boom has been “fueled by conflicts of interest and compensation to corporate insiders at the expense of retail investors.”

SPACs have also received pushback from investors such as Warren Buffett’s business partner Charlie Munger and Chris Sacca – an early investor in Uber, Twitter, and Instagram – who recently said he has received multiple invitations to sit on the boards of SPACs with the expectation that “you’ll get [lots of shares] for just putting your name on it and doing nothing.'”

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Exxon and Chevron discussed merging to form second-largest oil company: report

Exxon Baton Rouge refinery
An Exxon refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Exxon and Chevron discussed merging the oil companies last year, a move that would have likely created the second-largest oil company in the world, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

The talks between Chevron CEO Mike Wirth and Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods took place in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, which battered the oil sector, the Journal reported, citing a source familiar with the matter. The talks were preliminary and are not ongoing, though the two CEOs might resume discussions, the Journal said.

If the merger were to occur, it would likely make the ensuing firm the second-largest oil company in the world by market capitalization and production, the Journal said. Saudi Aramco is the world’s largest oil company.

A Chevron spokesperson did not comment on the Journal’s report, telling Insider “we do not comment on market rumors or speculation.” Exxon did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

The oil industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, with reduced travel drastically cutting demand for jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline. Oil prices have rebounded this year after a brutal spring 2020 in which US crude fell into negative territory for the first time. 

Read more: How Exxon Mobil went from being the world’s most valuable company to getting booted from the Dow and laying off thousands in less than a decade

Exxon, the largest US oil producer, has faced pressure from a number of events, including its ousting from the Dow Jones Industrial Average in August and a reported SEC investigation into allegations the company overvalued a key oil and gas property in Texas’ Permian Basin. It also posted losses in the first three quarters of 2020; fourth quarter results will be revealed on Tuesday. 

Chevron has also been hammered by the decline in demand for crude oil. Late last year, the second-largest US oil producer took steps to reduce costs and streamline operations. It also asked employees worldwide to reapply for positions, Reuters reported. Last week the company reported a fourth quarter loss. 

Exxon and Chevron have market capitalizations of $190 billion and $164 billion, respectively. 

Last week, S&P Global Ratings put several big oil companies, including Chevron and Exxon, on notice that it could soon downgrade their credit ratings due to heightened concerns about climate change and a global push towards greener energy.

The agency – one of the three most influential ratings firms in the world – said it could ultimately downgrade the ratings of Chevron, Exxon, Shell and Total among others.

The Journal noted that the proposed merger between Chevron and ExxonMobil would bring back together two of the companies borne after John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil monopoly was broken up in 1911.

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