The U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has provisionally greenlighted the proposed $8.1 billion merger of cybersecurity companies NortonLifeLock and Avast, with Microsoft emerging as an unlikely ally as the two companies seek to push the deal over the line.
The merger has been hanging in the balance since the two companies announced their plans in August last year, with the CMA revealing in March that it was opening an investigation as the coming together of two cybersecurity giants raised competition concerns. Indeed, the two companies offer a range of security software products, spanning antivirus, identity protection and VPNs, with the CMA noting at the time that the two are "close competitors" with "few other significant rivals."
"We are living more of our lives online and it is vital that people have access to competitive cyber safety software when seeking to protect themselves and their families," David Stewart, CMA executive director, said at the time.
Fast-forward to today, and the CMA said that it has now concluded that the merger "does not raise competition concerns in the U.K.," and that there are various alternative free and premium cybersecurity software products on the market. These include the likes of McAfee, which in fact was recently acquired by an investor consortium for $14 billion, and the mighty Microsoft, which the CMA said "holds a unique position in the market as the owner of the Windows operating system."
Microsoft has indeed bolstered its omnipresent operating system with its own built-in Defender-branded antivirus software -- back in June, the company launched Microsoft Defender for Individuals, an online security application for Microsoft 365 Personal and Family subscribers across Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS. And it also launched a standalone version of Microsoft Defender for Business. Collectively, these various products have meant that consumers and businesses have become less reliant on security software from third-party providers such as NortonLifeLock or Avast.
"Applications recently launched by Microsoft for its customers bring its cyber safety offering closer to those of the merging businesses and are likely to further strengthen Microsoft as a competitor going forward," the CMA said in its statement.
From a U.K. regulatory perspective, the merger isn't over the line quite yet. The provisional approval has now been put back out for further feedback, with "interested parties" invited to respond by August 24 -- the final decision is expected by September 8, 2022.