FTC launches AI inquiry into Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft, looking at ‘investments and partnerships’

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WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 4: Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan speaks during a discussion on antitrust reforms at the Brookings Institution October 4, 2023 in Washington, DC. Khan assumed the role of FTC chair in June 2021 after being appointed by U.S. President Joe Biden and confirmed by the Senate. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Drew Angerer | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The Federal Trade Commission said Thursday it will conduct an extensive study on the artificial intelligence field’s biggest heavyweights, including Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft, Anthropic and OpenAI.

FTC Chair Lina Khan announced the inquiry during the agency’s tech summit on AI, describing it as a “market inquiry into the investments and partnerships being formed between AI developers and major cloud service providers.”

By invoking its authority to conduct a so-called 6(b) study — named for Section 6(b) of the FTC Act — the regulator can look into the AI companies separately from its law enforcement arm and make civil investigative demands. For example, the agency can order companies to file specific reports and answer questions in writing about their businesses.

“At the FTC, the rapid development and deployment of AI is informing our work across the agency,” Khan said. “There’s no AI exemption from the laws on the books, and we’re looking closely at the ways companies may be using their power to thwart competition or trick the public.”

In 2022, the FTC launched a similar inquiry into the prescription drug middleman industry, “requiring the six largest pharmacy benefit managers to provide information and records regarding their business practices.” Two years earlier, it launched the same type of study into past acquisitions by Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook (now Meta), “requiring them to provide information about prior acquisitions not reported to the antitrust agencies.”

“What AI liability regimes will ultimately look like is still an open question,” Khan said Thursday. “Our enforcement experience in other domains will directly inform how the FTC approaches this work.”

WATCH: Regulators take on Amazon

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