For nearly five hours yesterday, CEOs of four of America’s most valuable technology companies were grilled by members of the House Antitrust Subcommittee. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Sunder Pichai from Google’s parent company Alphabet testified remotely. The committee members were present in Congress, led by Chairman David Cicilline.
The hearing was the result of a year-long investigation into whether the size and power of these companies stifle innovation and competition. The panel collected testimony from mid-level executives from the four firms and statements from legal experts and competitors. It also examined more than a million internal documents in order to determine if the companies need to be regulated more heavily, or even split up.
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In a nutshell, chairman David Cicilline concluded that the four companies have too much power. “This hearing has made one fact clear to me: These companies as [they] exist today have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up. All need to be properly regulated,” he said. He further added, “Whether they control access to information or to a marketplace, these platforms have the incentive and ability to exploit this power.”
Over the course of the long, drawn out hearing, the four CEOs fiercely defended themselves by stressing the value of their companies, how their products have impacted people’s life and how much competition they actually face.
Zuckerberg was charged with purchasing Instagram in order to neutralise a threat, with committee members deeming Facebook’s acquisition strategy as a “land grab”. Several Republican members of the committee also charged Facebook with allegedly stifling conservative voices.
While Jeff Bezos tried to present the story of Amazon as a true-blue American success story, he was pressed on whether the company ever used data from third-party sellers in order to make sales decisions. Amazon also faced allegations of deliberately misleading the committee. The company had earlier told the committee that it has a policy to never mine data from third-party sellers on its site. However during the hearing, public reports that indicated they had in fact done so were brought up. As a response, Bezos said “I can’t guarantee you that policy has never been violated.”
Google was accused of using the might and monopoly of its search engine to put rivals at a disadvantage. The company’s practice of rigging content at the top of the search results to its own advantage was specifically criticized. Further, it was accused of monitoring web traffic to identify competition which had the potential to become a threat. It was also accused of stealing restaurant reviews from Yelp. In response, Sunder Pichai stated that the company simply tries to present the most relevant information to its users.
Apple’s Tim Cook faced several questions on the walled garden that is the App Store. Specifically, the company’s policy of taking a 30 percent commission on in-app revenue, purchases and subscriptions was called into question. Cook defended the company by saying they love developers and “We do not retaliate or bully people.”