The agency plans to scrutinize Microsoft, Amazon and Google for their investments in the A.I. start-ups OpenAI and Anthropic.
The Federal Trade Commission opened an inquiry on Thursday into the multibillion-dollar investments by Microsoft, Amazon and Google in the artificial intelligence start-ups OpenAI and Anthropic, broadening the regulator’s efforts to corral the power the tech giants can have over A.I.
These deals have allowed the big companies to form deep ties with their smaller rivals while dodging most government scrutiny. Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, while Amazon and Google have each committed billions of dollars to Anthropic, another leading A.I. start-up.
Regulators have typically focused on bringing antitrust lawsuits against deals where the tech giants are buying rivals outright or using acquisitions to expand into new businesses, leading to increased prices for consumers and other harm, and have not regularly challenged stakes that the companies buy in start-ups. The F.T.C.’s inquiry will examine how these investment deals alter the competitive landscape and could inform any investigations by federal antitrust regulators into whether the deals have broken laws.
The F.T.C. said it would ask Microsoft, OpenAI, Amazon, Google and Anthropic to describe their influence over their partners and how they worked together to make decisions. The agency also said it would demand that they provide any internal documents that could shed light on the deals and their potential impact on competition.
“Our study will shed light on whether investments and partnerships pursued by dominant companies risk distorting innovation and undermining fair competition,” Lina Khan, the F.T.C. chair, said in a statement.
The inquiry is the agency’s first major effort to understand the way the companies are using partnerships and investments to rapidly expand their influence in A.I. Ms. Khan, who was appointed in 2021, has long pushed to modernize the way the government deploys antitrust law. That has included her agency’s filing an antitrust suit against Amazon last year accusing it of artificially raising prices and asking courts to embrace more novel theories about how corporations can harm the economy.