The GAFAM Empire

An exploration of acquisitions by big tech companies

GAFAM Empire is a project in which we look at all the known acquisitions conducted by five big tech companies: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft, from the moment they made their first one to the end of summer of 2022, when we stopped collecting data.

Why do we call it an empire? Our focus is on trying to understand how these companies purchase their power and ability to grow their respective market positions based on their information infrastructure through the simple operation of acquiring other businesses and their products. Our understanding of empire here is very basic: empire controls three basic layers of knowledge: 1) collection of data/intelligence, 2) storage of that intelligence as well as 3) capacity of processing it. These three unique characteristics give them powerful and unprecedented insights into how our societies operate. Why are we not calling them monopolies? Because this framing based on the idea of limited resources and competition for consumers frankly does not apply - the resources are unlimited - and that is our data and attention. When it comes to competition we are free to chose the ones we like - we can use products of them all in fact. In short we call them empires in a collonial sense, as in digital colonialism and not monopolies in a market competition sense.

All of these five companies dominate the space of collecting data (number of users), managing and processing that data (cloud and other infrastructures they own, including hardware) as well as processing and analysing that data (machine learning, AI, algorithms). They all monetize this dominant position, making them the richest tech companies out there. How big are they, which sectors do they dominate and in which do they compete, what futures are they trying to prepare for? It is obvious that for them the ideal future is the one where we do everything online, everything is digital and goes though their channels. These were the questions driving our research and this visualization.

You can learn more about the data used here in the Methodology section, however, we have to say that the data we acquired has significant limits. One would hope that there is a clear way of learning how much each of these acquisitions was worth; sadly that is not the case. This specific data is sporadic and often unreliable. It would be great to know the exact reasons for each of the acquisitions - this is also very arbitrary and ephemeral - as the descriptions of purchased companies and products often do not reflect the actual reasons of purchases: was it buying a product, buying out a competitor, absorbing talent, skills, or expertise, or to exploit the content (which is why GitHub users filed a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft for training an AI tool with their code)?

So what is it that you can actually learn here?

We can learn how they grew - which sectors they expanded to, what types of know-how they absorbed, and in fact who they actually are besides who we think they are. We, the users of their services, often associate who they are with the most popular services we use, but looking at their acquisitions we are looking at a very different picture - a picture dominated by strategic purchases and political visions. In 2021 alone it is estimated that the technology acquisition market exceeded over three trillion US dollars. It is not insignificant what they acquire and we should know more about why.

In the history of big tech companies, each company that has been acquired is represented here by a single dot.

Each company is described by up to 7 tags related to what they do. Self representation of companies is an important proxy to read big tech companies' interests in why they acquired these specific companies.

Github is described by five tags: Cloud computing, Internet, Developer Tools, Software and Project Management

Each company is described using different tags to define similar aspects, others in a generic way and others very specific.

Handipoints is described as Casual Games, Gaming and Videogames. Twisted Pixel Games is described as Creative Agency, Online Games, Videogames.Ivona Text-to-speech by Software.Orion Network system is described as Satellite Communications and Communication Infrastructures.

How can we recognize the main areas where these companies are located if we do not have a general unit to observe them? How can we observe them while maintaining the gray zones that they themselves circumscribe according to their descriptions?

Handipoints can be summarized as Gaming, like Twisted Pixel Games.Ivona Text-to-speech is summarized as Void.Orion Network Systems is summarized as Digital Infrastructure

To analyze all the tags and give them a more general classification, the initial 390 different labels have been reduced to a total number of 25 with a maximum of three per company.

Handipoint and Twisted Pixel Games get closer since they have the Gaming tag in common

From the combinations of these tags it was possible to create a proximity map where companies close to each other are described by similar tags. As a result we saw for the first time the areas that the companies defines as a landscape of acquisitions.

Chapter 1

Landscape of acquisitions

The proximity map computed from the similarity of self-assigned tags lets us gather companies with similar interests and expertise and it reveals some common ideas that are being explored from a technological perspective. This classification, enriched by a layer of human interpretation, maps in which areas GAFAM invested in the last 50 years. From e-commerce to self-driving cars and health, GAFAM compete in a crowded space in which many companies are trying to get their attention — in order to be acquired and repay the initial capital that was invested in these small companies.

We reviewed in detail the self-descriptions of each company within the groups, and also sought complementary information about each company to better understand what each company's business was. Move the slider over the landscape to discover the clusters by business.

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For example, Neven Vision was acquired by Google in 2006. It self-described with the tag "Software" as a “developer of mobile recognition engines for mobile phone and consumer electronics industries, and more”. Since these entry points are still ambiguous for understanding the company business, further research was done for each company.Neven Vision is initially tagged as Software Neven Vision was a biometric and photo recognition company. It has patents on technology ranging from photo analysis to face recognition in video files to several patents for facial capture for avatar animation. The company is heavily focused on mobile phones and also offers a product to deliver coupons to mobile devices. Thus, the tag "software" is changed to "biometrics". After researching each company, this project proposes an overview of 20 areas where the companies acquired by GAFAMs are located. Neven Vision is labeled as Biometrics

The Health Cluster

The clusters show the vastness of areas covered by the companies purchased by GAFAM. However, it is necessary to look at each company individually to try to read the motivations that can be interpreted from their descriptions. In this cluster we can observe a concentration of companies which define themselves within the healthcare and bio developing solutions. From 1998, companies acquired often mention “biotechnology” and software solutions for managing user information. On the other hand, concepts such as “fitness”, “beauty” and “wellness” increasingly appear from 2011.
Company Sector Technology Full Description Tags
Health Navigator Health Software Health Navigator sets the standard for digital health clinical content quality, across multiple channels and the continuum of care, improving the patient and provider experience, from the presenting complaint to the final diagnosis and treatment. Health Care
AC Wellness HealthAC Wellness independent medical group owned by Apple dedicated to delivering compassionate, effective healthcare to the Apple employee population. AC Wellness Network believes that having trusting, accessible relationships with our patients, enabled by technology, promotes high-quality care and a unique patient experience. This is fostered by an environment of continuous learning and teamwork, which in turn allows us to work with our patients to achieve exceptional health outcomes. The centers offer a unique concierge-like healthcare experience for employees and their dependents. Candidates must have an appreciation for the patient experience and passion for wellness and population health — integrating best clinical practices and technology in a manner that drives patient engagement. Fitness, Health Care, Hospital, Medical, Wellness
Gliimpse Health Software Gliimpse™ began with a simple idea – everyone should be able to manage their health records, and share them securely with those they trust. Currently in stealth, Gliimpse is healthcare’s platform for patient data. By unlocking patient data silos, we aggregate fragmented data into patient-owned, longitudinal health profile. Gliimpse is your personal health history, in the palm of your hands. Health Care, Information Technology
Verily Health Big Data & Analytics Verily aspires to create a world in which technology and life sciences are not distinct, but partners with a united mission. Formerly Google Life Sciences, Verily's mission is to bring together technology and life sciences to uncover new truths about health and disease. Verily's multidisciplinary teams have access to advanced research tools, large-scale computing power, and unique technical expertise. They work with partners from across the industry and many fields of research to develop new technology, launch studies, and start companies. The company was founded in 2015 and is based in San Francisco, California, United States. Analytics, Enterprise Software, Health Care, Information Technology, Software
SignalPath Health Big Data & Analytics The SignalPath platform is the first of its kind to be built by researchers, for researchers. We provide our breakthrough software to clinical research sites, with the goal of dramatically improving the ease and efficiency of trial execution across all of the trials they are engaged in. Our purpose-built platform is designed to be used at the point of care, enabling clinical research teams to focus on their patients while achieving their research goals. Information Technology, Medical, Software
Vianeta Communications Health Software Vianeta Communications supplies internet and telephony solutions to facilitate communications between enterprises and clients. Vianeta Communications serves medical transcription, imaging, billing, electronic medical records, and procurement markets. Health Care, Information Technology
eScription Health Artificial Intelligence eScription, Inc. offers software to healthcare enterprises. The company's products comprise IntelliScript, which records clinicians' dictations and optimizes the audio for computer aided medical transcription; AutoScript that is a speech recognition engine, which creates draft documents from clinicians' audio dictations; The EditScript, which is a transcription tool for computer aided medical transcription streamline workflow and document editing; NetScript that offers electronic signature capabilities and allows clinicians to review, revise, and sign documents; and PrintScript, which distributes documents through a network printers and fax machines at health care facilities. The company was founded in 1999 and is based in Needham, Massachusetts. As of May 20, 2008, eScription, Inc. operates as a subsidiary of Nuance Communications, Inc. Health Care, Medical, Software, Speech Recognition
Rosetta Biosoftware Health Software Rosetta Biosoftware provides life science informatics solutions that enable breakthroughs in basic biological research, drug discovery and development, and translational medicine. Their products accelerate research and improve safety and therapeutic decision making. We continue to innovate leading technology that converts data into understanding in support of the promise of personalized medicine. Rosetta Biosoftware was formerly a subsidiary of Merck, and was sold to Microsoft in June 2009. Biotechnology, Internet

The Gaming Cluster

In the Gaming cluster we find three main groups of companies that GAFAM acquired: Gaming Studios, Cloud Computing technologies and Augmented/Virtual Reality. Gaming Studios are a way for GAFAM to acquire talent to produce interactive content for the next generation platforms they are developing (or have developed in the past). Gaming Studios operate either on the traditional console market, or on the newer mobile market Cloud Computing is related to the infrastructures needed to serve online games to the public, as well as sedimenting the current interest in streaming gaming content following the success of the Entertainment & Streaming sector. Finally, with the introduction of the concept of the metaverse, and the previous interest in Virtual Reality, many companies focused on this particular technology emerge. Virtual Reality started with interactive content and gaming in general, but GAFAM are repositioning this technology as more than a recreational activity: they expect it to become the main interface used in the future.
Name Family Sector Technology Short description Tags
Twitch AMZ Gaming Cloud Computing Twitch is a social video platform where gamers can broadcast, watch, and talk about video games. Media and Entertainment, Social Media, Video, Video Games, Video Streaming
BigBox VR FB Gaming Vr & Gaming BigBox VR is a startup creating the future of online VR multiplayer games. Gaming
Google VR GOOG Gaming Vr & Gaming Google VR Experience virtual reality in a fun, simple and affordable way. Software, Virtual Reality
Agawi Inc GOOG Gaming Cloud Computing Agawi is the world's 1st cloud-based app streaming platform for mobile, tablets and Smart TVs. EdTech, Gaming, Mobile Apps, Mobile Devices, Software
Activision Blizzard MSFT Gaming Vr & Gaming Activision Blizzard is an entertainment company that develops, publishes, and distributes video games for gaming consoles. Console Games, Gaming, Media and Entertainment, PC Games, Video Games
Chapter 2

The GAFAM petri dishes

If we break down the landscape of acquisitions that has been outlined in the last 50 years, GAFAM reveal their core interests and how they expanded from them in time. Nowadays, they are more and more focused in some key areas, where each of them aspires to be the herald of the “next technological breakthrough”. At various points in time it’s possible to see shifts in interests across the entire industry that seem to lead to an overall convergence of interest between GAFAM.

The combination of sectors in which GAFAM operate acquisitions and the technological effort that they pursue reveal slightly different visions on what’s to come, and different technocratic roadmaps on how to achieve them. Since they were born, GAFAM have amassed various expertise by absorbing startups and established companies.

In the visualisation, each cluster collects all companies that operate in an identified sector, while each company is colored again by their main technological affinity. At a first glance, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon highlight the most differences between one another. Microsoft shows a big interest in Gaming for its big foray into the industry with the Xbox, while Apple has the biggest interest in Hardware technologies, as well as a big clump of companies that operate in the Education sector. Google and Facebook, instead, albeit at different scales, share more similarities than not: they both invested considerably into the Social Media space, while making some dips into Hardware with many acquisitions.

  • Many acquisitions in the Health sector are related to Software that manage health record and Big Data & Analytics technology. Microsoft is the first to make acquisitions in this space. Microsoft acquires Nuance Communications, their biggest acquisition in the space since 2007.
  • Google's interest in acquisitions related to Advertising slowed down in 2017, and no companies were acquired in the last five years. Amazon acquired in 1999, and in remains to this day the only acquisition in the Advertising sector. From 2012 onwards, acquisitions in the Advertising space slowed down, probably due to the market's maturity.
  • Google acquires a company that focuses on the generation or spoken content through AI. Google VR is created, to concentrate efforts in developing Virtual Reality applied on various Google services. Facebook announces its interest in VR through its acquisition of Oculus, one of the major players up to 2012. Apple acquired only one company in the gaming space, which focuses on Augmented Reality. Microsoft acquired Activision/Blizzard, one of the biggest gaming publishers in 2022, acquiring the entirety of their catalogue of IPs.
  • Google acquires Google Scholar, enriching its search engine with knowledge about scholarly articles. In the last five years, Google acquired three major companies in the field, including Socratic, introducing AI to tools for education. In 2019, Amazon spun off Amazon Future Engineer, a 'childhood-to-career' program to develop careers in line with the company’s culture. Facebook has not made any acquisition in the educational space yet. Apple entered the educational space in 1996 with Xemplar Education and PowerSchool. Respectively, they were a way to sell their PCs to schools and to provide software to manage students’ activities. PowerSchool was sold in 2016. Apple re-initiated acquisitions in the educational space with acquisitions related to cloud computing focusing on the growth of educators and students alike. Microsoft acquires 5 More Minutes Ltd., a company that uses games in education. It was rearranged to develop educational versions of IPs acquired by Microsoft  in the gaming space, like Minecraft.
  • Google is the only GAFAM that acquires companies both in the Robotics and Energy sector. Redwood Robotics was acquired by Apple on 2/12/2013 and sold to Google just two days later. With 5 companies, Amazon is the GAFAM with the most acquisitions in the robotics sector, mainly focusing on autonomous vehicles among robotics for agriculture and inventory distribution. Valence Technology was acquired in 1998, being the first energy sector company acquired by a GAFAM. Microsoft sold Valence Technology to Lithium Werks in 2018, its only company in the energy sector. Two years after, it will start its interest in the robotics sector by buying Softomotive in 2020.

Robotics and energy

Recently, GAFAM entered the Robotics sector with some acquisitions that, however, reveal how differently they are tackling this technological effort. Amazon, for example, acquired many Robotics companies that focus on automating the delivery of goods in the city, without the need of manned vehicles. Through drones and self-driving cars, Amazon aims at filling cities with autonomous vehicles to deliver the goods they sell. These acquisitions are concentrated in the last five years, signalling a rather recent interest in this sector.

Google, instead, focused its acquisitions in this sector to support research in developing automata that replace humans at human tasks. This, coupled with AI and ML efforts and investments, reveals a peculiar interest in humanoid robots that could potentially self-adapt and evolve to better themselves at solving human tasks. These acquisitions were mainly concentrated in the last decade, with a big spike from 2012 to 2017.


The largest acquisitions made in the Health space were by Microsoft in the last 5 years span: which focused mainly in Artificial Intelligence in the Health space. Other acquisitions, like the ones from Google, focus on the Cloud computing aspect of Health data storage.


The Advertising sector can be considered solidified and consolidated in 2022, and this is reflected in the acquisitions by GAFAM. The bulk of acquisitions made by Google in this sector date back to the beginning of the decade, as well as the acquisitions by Microsoft, the other big player in this sector, that slowed down in the last fifteen years. Apple and Facebook made some small investments in this sector, probably for different reasons related to the overall focus they have or for the expertise they already have. Amazon, on the other hand, did not make any significant acquisition in this space, apart from one single acquisition at the beginning of the millennium.

Chapter 3

Timelines of expansion

GAFAM expand in various ways by acquiring companies for various reasons. Sometimes, they acquire a company for their talents, their patents, or because they acquired other companies themselves, absorbing expertise that would be fragmented. Having a bird’s flight overview to all acquisitions, in these instances, is not enough: investigating the concatenation of relationships that happened before an acquisition and after it reveal, to a certain degree, the motivations behind the acquisitions of specific companies.

Timelines expansions shows the companies that were previously acquired by another company before a GAFAM did. The acquisition chain over time provides a reading of how some subsidiary companies change their focus after being acquired by a GAFAM. In other words, we see how the purchase affects the direction that the company had followed before unveiling the GAFAM's motivation.


Authentec: integration of technology. Apple’s approach to acquisitions is reflected in the history of TouchID, a method of authentication introduced in 2012 that uses fingerprints to unlock mobile devices. Authentec, which was buying companies that developed this technology, was acquired by Apple in 2012, and subsequently shut down to incorporate the talents collected by the company directly in its empire. After the acquisition, speculation began if the iPhone was going to incorporate such an authentication system, and eventually it did: Authentec was shut down and its technologies used in the mobile phone. Apple acquired all patents and technologies development which it still owns today.

Dialog Semiconductors: transitioning chip design through talent acquisition. In 2018, Apple acquired 300 people from Dialog Semiconductors, one of its chip suppliers for mobile devices in a deal that showed its interest in developing chips in-house, an endeavour that was revealed to the public in 2020.


Oculus: the Metaverse stepping stones. In 2014, Facebook announced its deal to buy Oculus for $2 billion. At that point, Oculus was still a small company, founded just two years prior by Palmer Luckey, and the acquisition was one of the biggest ones by Facebook. In its announcement, Facebook explained their ambitions to expand the reach of Oculus — which, up to that point, was a company focused on VR gaming — to various sectors, “including communications, media and entertainment, education and other areas” (Facebook). In 2021, Facebook renamed itself Meta, inspired by the concept of the metaverse, in the midst of the COVID pandemic that propelled society into a need for ways to connect remotely with each other. Meta’s ambition is to develop a private hybrid cyberspace that would use Oculus’s expertise (now called Reality Labs) developed in almost ten years as the primary interface for the metaverse.


Nuance Communications: small fish, big fish. Nuance Communication is an emblematic case of how the Big Tech industry operates currently, where a bigger fish eating everyone could appear out of nowhere. Up to 2019, Nuance Communication was slowly building a specific portfolio of expertise and talent related to health records management and interpretation, in particular using Artificial Intelligence to interpret patients’ recordings.

Company Technology Description
Speechworks Biometrics Speech recognition, text-to-speech (TTS) and speaker verification for network and embedded environments.
MedRemote Cloud Computing MedRemote provides Web-based transcription processing and workflow systems.
Dictaphone Artificial Intelligence Dictaphone is a program that uses speech recognition technology to assist in productivity. It is a provider of dictation, transcription, speech recognition and natural language processing systems in the healthcare market.
Transcend Services Artificial Intelligence Transcend Services, Inc. provides medical transcription services to the healthcare industry in the United States. It converts physicians' voice recordings into electronic medical record documents using its proprietary BeyondTXT workflow platform that provides workflow management and production control. The company utilizes a combination of its proprietary Internet-based voice and data distribution technology, customer based technology, and home-based medical language specialists to convert physicians' voice recordings into electronic documents. It also provides outsourcing transcription and editing services on the customer's platform. Transcend serves hospitals, hospital systems, multi-specialty clinics, and physician group practices. The company was founded in 1976 and is based in Atlanta, Georgia.
MacSpeech Artificial Intelligence MacSpeech is a Mac-only company dedicated to producing the finest speech recognition products for Macintosh.

This focus on AI for speech recognition caught the attention of Microsoft, which was able to acquire a company that was already aggregating many smaller companies into a bigger empire. Microsoft acquired Nuance Communications out of a common vision for AI to support companies in a cloud-based environment to solve problems across healthcare, finance and telecommunications, further cementing Microsoft’s role as a primary force for AI.

Activision. In 2022, Microsoft announced the acquisition of Activision, one of the biggest gaming publishers in the industry. With it, a long list of intellectual properties was acquired, which became property of their empire: the list includes Call of Duty and many others. The acquisition of Activision followed the acquisition of ZeniMax, another major gaming publishing company: both these acquisitions enrich the video games catalogue provided by Microsoft exclusively for their console, the Xbox, and their video game streaming service, Xbox Cloud Gaming, which is based on the Microsoft Azure infrastructure.

Github. Microsoft moved quickly and high on Github to outcompete other potential buyers. First, the acquisition enabled Microsoft to eradicate a few losses they encountered due to their lack of recognition of the role of the internet (they started strongly as a developers hub but lost the role with slow catch up with internet as the main platform for development) and it enabled them to backtact on their militant approach to Open Source (former CEO would call Open Source a “cancer” in the 90ties - as Microsoft lost the Open Source battle, which is mainstream these days, they bought themselves back in. And tertiary - they recognised the growth of GitHub as the enterprise provider. while giving them control over the largest repository of software code as well as the widest network of developers. Consider GitHub not only a repository but also a hub (sorry for the poor pun) let's say place where new ideas are born and tested.