Competition watchdog seeks views on big tech AI partnerships

The Competition and Markets Authority has previously raised concerns about close partnerships between major tech and AI firms harming competition.

(Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The UK’s competition regulator has asked for comments from interested parties on a range of partnerships between major tech and AI firms and whether they could breach merger or competition rules.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it was interested in hearing views on partnerships between Microsoft and Mistral AI, Amazon and Anthropic, and Microsoft’s recent hiring of senior figures from Inflection AI.

Earlier this month, the CMA published a report outlining the potential risks to open, fair and effective competition in the AI market.

It specifically identified what it called an “interconnected web” of more than 90 partnerships and strategic investments between a small handful of the biggest tech and AI firms, a set-up it warned could be used to consolidate power and resources within the sector.

Microsoft recently announced the creation of a new team, Microsoft AI, which will be led by British AI pioneer Mustafa Suleyman, who was the head of start-up Inflection AI, having previously founded DeepMind, the AI firm now owned by Google.

A number of other Inflection staff have followed Mr Suleyman to Microsoft.

Amazon has invested around four billion dollars (£3.2 billion) in Anthropic as it looks to gain an advantage in the AI race, while Microsoft announced a multi-year partnership with French AI start-up Mistral earlier this year, which is reported to include investment of around £13 million.

Joel Bamford, executive director of mergers at the CMA, said: “Today we’re inviting comments into the partnerships between Microsoft and Mistral AI, Amazon and Anthropic, and Microsoft’s hiring of former employees and related arrangements with Inflection AI.

“We will assess, objectively and impartially, whether each of these three deals fall within UK merger rules and, if they do, whether they have any impact on competition in the UK.

“Foundation Models have the potential to fundamentally impact the way we all live and work, including products and services across so many UK sectors – healthcare, energy, transport, finance and more.

“So open, fair, and effective competition in Foundation Model markets is critical to making sure the full benefits of this transformation are realised by people and businesses in the UK, as well as our wider economy where technology has a huge role to play in growth and productivity.

“Given the global nature of these markets, competition authorities around the world are actively looking into AI.

“The CMA recently committed to step up the use of its merger control powers as part of its recent Foundation Models update.

“While we remain open-minded, and haven’t drawn any conclusions, our aim is to better understand the complex partnerships and arrangements at play.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “It’s unprecedented for the CMA to review a collaboration of this type.

“Unlike partnerships between other AI startups and large technology companies, our collaboration with Anthropic includes a limited investment, doesn’t give Amazon a board director or observer role, and continues to have Anthropic running its models on multiple cloud providers.

“By investing in Anthropic, which has just released its industry-best, new Claude 3 models, we’re helping make the generative AI segment more competitive than it’s been the last couple years. And customers are very excited about the opportunities this collaboration is providing them.

“We’re confident that the facts speak for themselves, and hope the CMA agrees to resolve this quickly.”