At 12pm Eastern Time (5pm Nigerian Time), on the 29th of July, 2020, the US House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law had a session where members grilled the CEOs of four tech giants.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Sundar Pichai of Alphabet Inc. (Owner of Google), were questioned on the power their companies have been amassing, as well as the dominance and monopoly the companies are building.
The four tech companies, whose summative value is about $5 trillion dollars, were also grilled on how they have been making things difficult for their competitors by making moves that cripple their rivals, or acquiring them outrightly.
Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives antitrust panel said that the four companies exhibit behavior of concern:
“What we heard from witnesses at the hearing confirmed the evidence that we have collected over the last year,” Rep. David Cicilline told Reuters.
In the course of the hearing, the committee found patterns of behaviour exhibited by the four companies. Rep. David Cicilline, in his opening remark said:
“Although, these four corporations differ in important and meaningful ways, we have observed common patterns and competition problems over the course of our investigation.”
Google’s Sundar Pichai was questioned on how the company uses data gathered from their searches to run surveillance on their competitors, and keep tabs on what they are up to.
The company was accused by Rep. Cicilline, specifically, on how it threatened to delist Yelp, if the company do not feed them into their products and reviews.
Sundar Pichai responded vaguely, while disagreeing with the accusations:
“We conduct ourselves to the highest standards.” “We try to understand trends from data we can see,” he added.
Republican Rep. Gregory Steube accused Google of bias, stating examples of how his congressional email to supporters were either blocked or sent to Gmail’s Spam box.
Pichai responded by saying:
“There’s nothing in the algorithm that has anything to do with political ideology, we do get complaints across the aisle.”
Sundar Pichai was recorded on many occasions to respond that he would make findings, and get back to the committee.
Mark Zuckerberg was questioned on the company’s internal email that was sent in 2012, where he stated that Instagram was disruptive to Facebook, and also mentioned buying Instagram.
Among the series of emails, Facebook’s Chief Financial Officer made reference to neutralizing a potential competitor. This remark, Zuckerberg responded to, as being part of his motivation.
Facebook was accused of silencing the company, because it sees Instagram as a threat, and instead of competing, Facebook bought the company.
While Mark Zuckerberg did not deny the claims, he responded by saying that the acquisition deal was approved at the time by the Federal Trade Commission.
Mark Zuckerberg, as well as other CEOs reiterated that their companies were made by Americans and for Americans. Tim Cook chipped in how his company has created lots of jobs for Americans.
Zuckerberg, in one of his arguments said that:
“If you look at where the top technology companies come from, a decade ago the vast majority were American. Today, almost half are Chinese.”
Apple’s Tim Cook, when questioned about App store rule, commissions charged in the app store, and how third party parental control apps were blocked. He responded by saying:
“I disagree strongly with that. The competition for developers – they can write their apps for Android or Windows or Xbox or PlayStation. We have fierce competition at the developer side and the customer side, which is essentially so competitive I would describe it as a street fight.”
Jeff Bezos had his first appearance at the House yesterday. During his session, he was questioned on how the company is maintaining dominance in the market by systematically blocking sellers from selling products in some specific categories.
Jeff Bezos responded by saying:
“I do not think that’s systematically what’s going on.”
“Third-party sellers in aggregate, are doing extremely well on Amazon.”
In one of his other remarks, Jeff Bezos appealed to American’s patriotism and trust.
“We need American workers to get products to American customers.”
Jeff Bezos acknowledged that there are policies that prohibits the use of third party seller’s data to influence Amazon’s decisions towards its business practices, but he continues by saying:
“I can’t guarantee you that policy has never been violated.”
It could be gathered that what the CEOs didn’t say is also noteworthy. An adviser to the Washington based non-profit Public knowledge – Gene Kimmelman commented that:
“All of them indicated that they use their massive data advantages to peek into what their competitors, or people who rely on their platforms are doing.” She further added that “while they didn’t really want to admit it, they couldn’t deny it.”