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Big tech keeps up acquisitions amid antitrust probes

A flurry of antitrust investigations at home and abroad hasn't suppressed big tech's appetite for young startups.

The latest evidence: Apple has purchased AI startup Xnor.ai for around $200 million. The startup, which was last valued at $62 million following a $12 million Series A in 2018, has received prior funding from Madrona Venture Group, Catapult Ventures and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which spun out the startup from its incubator program. A person familiar with the company confirmed the $200 million price tag of Wednesday's deal, which was first reported by GeekWire.

The news comes just a day after Google announced the acquisitions of Pointy for a reported €147 million (around $164 million) and AppSheet for an undisclosed amount.

All three recent acquisitions have the potential to shore up the companies' core money makers—which include devices in Apple's case and ad revenue and cloud computing in Google's. Xnor.ai makes technology that allows AI to operate locally on low-power devices, which could help free Apple's products from relying on the cloud for complicated tasks. Pointy gives Google an edge in ads for brick-and-mortar stores, while AppSheet has the ability to bolster the tech giant's cloud division with its no-code application software.

Apple, Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook have together revealed more than a dozen acquisitions since October, according to PitchBook data. The pace is fairly consistent with the companies' activity in recent years and suggests that big tech isn't letting antitrust probes—which in some cases scrutinize acquisition history—dissuade them from buying smaller businesses. Big tech acquisition activity since the beginning of 2016  

The US Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and Congress are engaged in antitrust probes of the largest tech companies. Google and Facebook are facing separate antitrust probes from large coalitions of state regulators. And both Facebook and Amazon's competitive practices are under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission.

Rep. David Cicilline, (D-RI) reportedly even floated the idea of banning big tech acquisitions until federal probes are complete.

Antitrust investigations are intensifying overseas as well. Last year, reports emerged that European regulators are taking a hard look at both Apple Pay and the App Store. And Google is still reeling from what's believed to be more than $9 billion in antitrust fines from the European Commission.

The pressure on big tech came into sharp relief this week when Jeff Bezos arrived in India. The Amazon CEO came bearing a promise to invest a reported $1 billion in small and medium-sized businesses after the country launched an investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices at the company.

Featured image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images News