DUBAI: On July 29, CEOs from the world’s biggest tech companies appeared before the US House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook and Alphabet Inc.’s Sundar Pichai spent hours facing questioning from lawmakers about anti-competitive monopolies.
There have been several concerns regarding the inclusion of all four companies due to their differences in business models, but subcommittee Chair David Cicilline addressed these by highlighting the commonalities between the companies: All are a bottleneck for a key channel of distribution; all use data and surveillance of other companies to buy, copy, or cut off potential competition; and all abuse their control over current technologies to extend their power.
“Their ability to dictate terms, call the shots, upend entire sectors, and inspire fear represent the powers of a private government,” said Cicilline.
Over a span of nearly six hours, lawmakers questioned the four CEOs on topics including Google’s search practices, the filtering out of political viewpoints on a platform, Russian election interference, promoting racism and anti-Semitism and practices that could eliminate existing and potential competition.
Though it was Bezos’ first congressional testimony, he appeared the least fazed by the grilling. Cook drew fewer barbed questions than Bezos but handled them efficiently, while Zuckerberg took the most damage, stumbling a few times when confronted with internal emails. Pichai endured much heat from conservatives, and he looked the worse for it as he repeatedly told lawmakers he would be happy to look into various situations and get back to them.
Unfortunately, the Big Tech hearing was decidedly low-tech. Bezos escaped questioning for about 90 minutes in what may have been a tech issue and was caught reaching for what appeared to be a snack. Poor audio quality, flat-screen televisions switching off, and chief executives appearing together as thumbnails on a large screen all frustrated viewers and led to mockery of the virtual set-up on Twitter.
“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,” said Gene Kimmelman, an adviser with the Washington-based nonprofit Public Knowledge. “So, while they didn’t really want to admit it, they couldn’t deny it.”
The hearing concluded with Cicilline saying: “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 and held accountable. We need to ensure the antitrust laws first written more than a century ago work in the digital age.”