EU says it will look closer at smaller acquisitions made by big tech firms after 'shopping spree'

Key Points
  • Major technology giants such as Apple and Microsoft have made a number of acquisitions in Europe, often small in size.
  • Those haven't been looked at closely by the European Union's regulators.
  • But Margrethe Vestager, the EU's competition commissioner, told CNBC that she is "developing methods to makes sure that we actually see these acquisitions, to make sure that it is pro-competition, it is pro-innovation, and not the opposite."
European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager talks to the media during a news conference on the concurrence case with Google online search advertising on March 20, 2019 in Brussels, Belgium.
Thierry Monasse | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Europe's top competition authority will look into smaller acquisitions made by big technology giants after a "shopping spree" in recent years by American firms, as regulators in the region look to ramp up pressure on major U.S. players.

The continent has been a hot bed of technology acquisitions by major U.S. firms over the last decade, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence.

High-profile purchases like the $8.5 billion Microsoft paid for Skype in 2011 or the $19 billion Facebook bought WhatsApp for in 2014 often make the headlines, but there are dozens of other smaller acquisitions that have happened.

Last year for example, Apple bought Spectral Edge for an undisclosed sum. It's a U.K.-based start-up working on photography technology. Twitter meanwhile acquired Fabula AI, another U.K.-based artificial intelligence firm. There are many more examples like this involving other technology giants such as Alphabet and Facebook.

Tech giants should have a special responsibility in European markets, EU official says
Tech giants should have a special responsibility, EU official says

These smaller acquisitions haven't warranted much attention from the European Union's competition chief Margrethe Vestager, though that could change.

"What we will try to do is to find ways to make sure that we see these acquisitions because sometimes these businesses are quite small, and maybe the sums, the turnover will not meet our thresholds," Vestager told CNBC's Silvia Amaro in an interview on Tuesday.

"What we would like to see (is) if that would ... make an entrenched position even more entrenched. So we are developing methods to make sure that we actually see these acquisitions, to make sure that it is pro-competition, it is pro-innovation, and not the opposite," she added.

Vestager did not expand on what these "methods" would be.

The EU's competition commissioner said big tech firms have gone on a "shopping spree" in Europe, calling it a "positive."

"One could see that as a kind of distributed innovation that happens here, but then being bought and integrated in giant companies. And that of course is ... positive to see that the ecosystem works," Vestager told CNBC.