In a combative congressional hearing on Wednesday, America’s top tech bosses were told they had ‘too much power’, censored political rhetoric, broadcast fake news and ‘killed’ the engines of the economy American.
The landmark hearing in Washington saw Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s parent Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai appear before members of the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee and face it. to intense questions from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
The subcommittee has been investigating corporate dominance in the online world for more than a year, collecting 1.3 million documents and conducting hundreds of hours of interviews. Already in the first few minutes, the chairman of the subcommittee, David Cicillin, took on a combative tone, pointing out that companies dominate their respective spheres and accusing them of stifling competition. The complaints against tech giants are varied, but the main criticisms are that they have used their dominance to crush their rivals and overcharge the people and businesses that depend on their services.
“Our founders would not bow to a king,” said the Rhode Island Democrat. “We must not bow to the emperors of the online economy either. “
Republican lawmakers at different points in the hearing steered the antitrust conversation towards allegations of anti-conservative bias on platforms, accusing companies of silencing Tory voices and working to undo the election victory of Donald Trump in 2016.
Google and Facebook have taken intense heat for their business practices. Cicillin opened the round of questions with allegations from small businesses that Google repossessed their content and listing on its own pages. CEO Pichai struggled to respond when Cicillin brought up Google by taking reviews from Yelp and posting them on his own pages. When Yelp asked Google to stop, Google reportedly threatened to remove Yelp from its search lists altogether. Cicillin called the behavior “economically catastrophic” for other online businesses.
“The evidence seems very clear to me that when Google became the gateway to the Internet, it started to abuse its power,” he said.
Zuckerberg faced repeated questions about Facebook’s purchase of Instagram in 2012. Referring to internal documents that revealed Facebook had bought Instagram to neutralize it as a competitive threat, Congressman Jerry Nadler called this acquisition of “exactly the type of anti-competitive acquisition that antitrust laws were designed to prevent.”
Zuckerberg defended the acquisition, saying Facebook has helped Instagram strengthen its infrastructure and security as it grows rapidly.
Zuckerberg and Pichai were also beaten by Republicans, who have repeatedly accused the companies of anti-conservative bias. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner asked Zuckerberg why the Tories were being “censored” on Facebook, saying Donald Trump Jr was taken off the platform for sharing a video containing false information this week. Zuckerberg politely explained to the representative that it was Twitter that had restricted Trump’s account for posting the video.
Bezos faced a few questions after his opening statement, possibly due to a technical difficulty with his video feed. Representative Pramila Jayapal asked Bezos if the company uses data from third-party sellers to make sales decisions. In a previous hearing, an Amazon executive denied this under oath and was contradicted by a subsequent report. Bezos was also asked if the online giant favors its own products when prioritizing certain shipments during the pandemic.
Bezos, the richest man in the world, relied heavily on his life story in his opening statement, noting that his mother was “a 17 year old high school student” and that his adoptive father is an immigrant. Cuban. “Amazon’s success was anything but predetermined,” he said before noting that the company had invested $ 270 billion in the United States over the past decade and created hundreds of thousands of jobs. .
Zuckerberg also argued that Facebook “has arrived the American way.”
“We started with nothing and delivered better products that people find valuable. If I understand our laws correctly, businesses are not bad just because they are big. Many large companies that are not competitive cease to exist, ”he said.
Cook, the Apple CEO, was effectively questioned by Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, who said the investigation raised concerns that the rules governing the App Store review process were failing. are not available to application developers. “The rules are made over time and subject to change – and Apple expects developers to accept the changes or leave the App Store,” Johnson said. “It’s a huge amount of energy.”
Cook argued that the App Store is not a monopoly because it does not charge the vast majority of apps to appear there. He said 84% of apps are unbilled and Apple hasn’t increased app commissions since 2008.
The hearing comes at a difficult time for tech giants Republicans and Democrats, both very critical of their dominance.
Donald Trump, who has attacked tech companies numerous times, weighed in before the hearing: “If Congress doesn’t bring fairness to Big Techs, which they should have done years ago, I will do it myself with the decrees. In Washington, it’s been years of TALK and NO ACTION, and the people of our country have had enough!
Trump’s attacks on tech companies have escalated as Twitter and Facebook recently attempted to verify the president’s facts and remove false statements from his account. Trump has accused Facebook and Twitter of censoring conservative views and has launched numerous attacks on Bezos and Amazon. Bezos owns The Washington Post, which has been a persistent critic of his presidency.
Republican lawmakers have echoed Trump’s frustrations, lamenting the “cancellation culture crowd” and questioning the platform’s decisions to remove content on hydroxychloroquine, the antimalarial drug Trump hailed as Covid-19 treatment.
“I’m just going to get right to the point: big technology is here to attract the Conservatives,” Representative Jim Jordan, a staunch supporter of the president, told the committee.
Congress is considering rewriting antitrust laws, but new legislation is unlikely.