Big Tech’s Dominance Comes Under Fire During Antitrust Hearing

Four of America’s big tech CEOs faced the US House of Representatives’ antitrust subcommittee Wednesday July 29,  taking questions about alleged predatory business practices, theft of digital content and aggressive copying and purchasing of competing businesses, reported the Wall Street Journal.  The chief executives of Amazon, Facebook, Apple andAlphabet were all virtually present at the hearing.

The hearing, held virtually amid the coronavirus outbreak, is the culmination of a 13-month investigation into Big Tech’s dominance. The participation of the four CEOs, who are among the most recognizable names in business and tech, marked the first time they had spoken to Congress as a group.

The subcommittee has been investigating the companies’ dominance of the online world for over a year, collecting 1.3 million documents and conducting hundreds of hours of interviews. Iin the opening minutes, the subcommittee chairman, David Cicilline  pointed out that the companies dominate their respective spheres and accused them of stifling competition. The complaints against the tech giants are varied but the overarching criticisms are that they have used their dominant position to quash rivals and overcharge the people and businesses reliant on their services.

“Our founders would not bow before a king,” the Rhode Island Democrat said. “Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy.”

Republican lawmakers at different times in the hearing directed the conversation away from antitrust to allegations of anti-conservative bias on the platforms, accusing the companies of silencing conservative voices and working to undo Donald Trump’s 2016 election win, reported The Guardian. 

Watch the full hearing below 

Bipartisanship was also clearly evident as both Democrats and Republicans raised many concerns about anti-competitive practices, reported CNET. For example, both Cicilline and Republican Ken Buck of Colorado, accused Google of stealing digital content from smaller companies, such as Yelp and Genius. In the case of Yelp, Cicilline said Google threatened to delist it when Yelp raised concerns.

“The choice Google gave Yelp was let us steal your content or effectively disappear from the web site. Isn’t that anti-competitive?” Cicilline asked in a pointed and forceful line of questioning.

Pichai avoided a direct answer, saying “When I run the company, I’m really focused on giving users what they want. We conduct ourselves to the highest standard. Happy to engage, understand the specifics, and answer your questions further.”

President Trump also weighed in on the topic Wednesday, tweeting, “If Congress doesn’t bring fairness to Big Tech, which they should have done years ago, I will do it myself with Executive Orders.”

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The CEOs rejected the accusations, saying they strive to remain politically neutral and focus on serving consumers, not denying access to rivals, reported The WSJ. 

Mr. Bezos told lawmakers about his parents and his decision to leave a Wall Street job to start Amazon from a Seattle garage.  “The retail market we participate in is extraordinarily large and competitive,” he said, addressing broader concerns about Amazon’s power. “There is room in retail for multiple winners.”

Cook, the Apple CEO, faced effective questioning from representative Hank Johnson of Georgia, who said the investigation had surfaced concerns that rules governing the App Store review process are not available to the app developers. “The rules are made up as you go and subject to change – and Apple expects developers to go along with the changes or leave the App Store,” Johnson said. “That’s an enormous amount of power.”

Cook argued the App Store does not constitute a monopoly because it does not charge the vast majority of apps to list there. He said 84% of apps are not charged anything and Apple has not increased commissions on apps since 2008.

The hearing comes at a difficult moment for the tech giants with Republican and Democrats both highly critical of their dominance.

Full Content: Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Guardian

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