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ID: 186548


Date: 2020-07-29

Everything you need to know from the tech antitrust hearing

The CEOs of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are testifying in Congress today — trying to convince the House Judiciary Committee that their business practices dont amount to anti-competitive monopolies. Its one of the biggest tech oversight moments in recent years, part of a long-running antitrust investigation that has mustered hundreds of hours of interviews and over a million documents from the companies in question. Amazons Jeff Bezos, Facebooks Mark Zuckerberg, Apples Tim Cook, and Google / Alphabets Sundar Pichai have all laid out their defense strategies in published testimony. They make the case that their companies are providing beneficial products in a landscape filled with competition and that their massive scale simply makes their services better. As the hearing progresses, well be updating with the latest news from the event. House Judiciary Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (D-RI) opened the hearing by warning about the influence wielded by Americas biggest tech companies. Because these companies are so central to our modern life, their business practices and decisions have an outsized effect on our economy and our democracy. Any single action by any one of these companies can affect hundreds of millions of us in profound and lasting ways, said Cicilline. Cicilline laid out common patterns across the four companies. Each is a bottleneck for a key channel of distribution, like an ad market or app store. Each uses data and surveillance of other companies to protect its power by buying, copying, or by cutting off potential competition. And the platforms all abuse their control over current technologies to extend their power by preferencing their own products or creating predatory pricing schemes. Their ability to dictate terms, call the shots, upend entire sectors, and inspire fear represent the powers of a private government, he concluded. Our founders would not bow before a king. Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy. Ranking member James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) followed with a more conciliatory statement. Being big is not inherently bad, quite the opposite. In America you should be rewarded for success, he said. Were here to better understand your role your companies have in the digital marketplace and importantly the effect they have on consumers and the public at large. The hearing was peppered with signs of the coronavirus pandemic. After a one-hour delay to allow time for cleaning, the remote witnesses were asked to swear that they werent getting fed answers by staff, and Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH) was chided for leaving his mask off while not speaking. Bezos, Pichai, Cook, and Zuckerberg all delivered 5-minute opening comments that were published the night before, offering defenses of their platforms alongside broader emotional appeals. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai mentioned their humble upbringings — Bezos mother was in high school in the 1960s when he was born, and Pichai described computer access changing his life while he was growing up in India. Apple CEO Tim Cook described Apple as a uniquely American company, while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised that his company would stand for American values in a competitive global market. Cicilline began his questioning by asking Sundar Pichai about Googles search practices, including its scraping of content like restaurant reviews. Why does Google steal content from honest businesses? he asked. When Pichai offered a nonspecific denial, he asked if there was a conflict of interest between Googles goal of sending people to relevant websites and its incentive to sell ads and promote its own services — and cited a memo where Google complained some vertical search sites were getting too much traffic. He also asked if Google used its web traffic surveillance capabilities to identify and crush competition. Congressman, just like other businesses we try to understand trends from, you know, data, which we can see, and we use it to improve our products for users, Pichai responded. Sensenbrenner directed his questions to Mark Zuckerberg, asking if Facebook filtered out political viewpoints and why it had temporarily suspended Donald J. Trump, Jr. for posting a video making false claims about face masks and the drug hydroxychloroquine. Zuckerberg pointed out that this incident actually happened on Twitter. But said that posts making false medical claims related to coronavirus would be removed because they could cause imminent risk of harm.