European regulator grants conditional approval to Microsoft's $26.2-bn LinkedIn deal

The European antitrust regulator yesterday approved Microsoft's $26.2-billion acquisition of professional social network LinkedIn, after the software giant offered several concessions.

The transaction, which has already received antitrust approvals from regulators in the US, Canada, Brazil and South Africa, will close in the next few days, said Brad Smith, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer.

In June, Microsoft announced plans to buy professional networking platform LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in an all-cash deal, its largest ever acquisition. (See: Microsoft to acquire LinkedIn for $26.2 bn in cash)

While the EC had sought information from rivals as part of its routine steps while reviewing a major merger, business software provider Salesforce.com had opposed the deal and urged the EC to block the transaction on the ground that the merger could harm competition and privacy (Salesforce opposes Microsoft-LinkedIn merger).

"Given Microsoft's history and existing monopolies, it will be necessary for antitrust enforcement agencies to be vigilant to ensure that Microsoft operates in a manner that promotes competition, rather than stifles it," Salesforce had said in a statement.

To address the competition concerns identified by the EC in the professional social network services market, Microsoft offered a series of commitments, including:

  • Ensuring that PC manufacturers and distributors would be free not to install LinkedIn on Windows and allowing users to remove LinkedIn from Windows should PC manufacturers and distributors decide to preinstall it.
  • Will allow competing professional social network service providers to maintain current levels of interoperability with Microsoft's Office suite of products through the so-called Office add-in program and Office application programming interfaces.
  • Will grant competing professional social network service providers access to "Microsoft Graph", a gateway for software developers.

These commitments will apply in the EEA for a period of five years and will be monitored by a trustee (Microsoft offers concessions to EU over its $26 bn acquisition of LinkedIn).

Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy at the EC, said, "A growing number of Europeans subscribe to professional social networks. These networks are important for professionals to connect and interact and to find new career opportunities. Today's decision ensures that Europeans will continue to enjoy a freedom of choice between professional social networks."

LinkedIn is the world's largest and most valuable professional network and continues to build a strong and growing business. Over the past year, the company has launched a new version of its mobile app that has led to increased member engagement and enhanced the LinkedIn newsfeed to deliver better business insights.

LinkedIn had acquired leading online learning platform Lynda.com in 2015 to enter a new market and rolled out a new version of its Recruiter product to its enterprise customers - innovations that resulted in increased membership, engagement and financial results, Microsoft noted.