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Report: US Senators urge FTC to scrutinize Microsoft/Activision merger

Report: US Senators urge FTC to scrutinize Microsoft/Activision merger

Aurich Lawson

Four U.S. Senators have sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan expressing concern about Microsoft’s proposed $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

In the letter, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) express worry that the merger could hurt efforts to hold Activision management accountable for widespread allegations of abuse, sexual harassment, and discrimination at Activision Blizzard. The letter also takes specific issue with reports that Activision CEO Bobby Kotick will be allowed to stay until the merger is finalized, and that the embattled executive might have negotiated a “graceful exit” as part of the merger talks.

“This lack of accountability, despite shareholders, employees, and the public calling for Kotick to be held responsible for the culture he created, would be an unacceptable result of the proposed Microsoft acquisition,” the letter reads in part, according to the report. The Senators also expressed general concern about “consolidation in the tech industry and its impact on workers.”

“Workplace culture is a critical priority for Microsoft,” Microsoft Corporate VP and General Counsel Lisa Tanzi told Ars Technica in response to a request for comment. “We believe Activision Blizzard will continue making progress, and we’re committed to further progress after the deal closes. We will constructively engage on unionization issues and will further discuss all of this with the FTC.”

The Senators’ offices haven’t responded to a request for comment.

Looking into it

Bloomberg reported in late January that the FTC would be handling the customary antitrust review of the Microsoft/Activision deal. The agency has since sent both companies numerous requests for documents, according to regulatory filings.

Speaking to the Financial Times in February, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said he thought the FTC wouldn’t block the proposed merger on antitrust grounds, because the combined company still wouldn’t have a market-controlling position in the fragmented game market. “Even post-this acquisition, we will be number three with a low teens (market) share, where even the highest player is also in the teens (for market) share,” Nadella said at the time.

A group of 15 public policy organizations, including Public Citizen and the Communication Workers of America, sent an open letter to the FTC earlier in March urging the agency to investigate a merger the group said “fits an alarming pattern of concentration in the gaming industry over the past several years.”

“By absorbing another major gaming studio and publisher, Microsoft will grow its ability to control content and self-preference its own at the expense of market competitors,” that letter said.

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