US lawmakers accuse Big Tech of crushing rivals to boost profits

Tech Titans

Google and Facebook took the sharpest jabs from politicians at a much-anticipated congressional hearing that put four of America’s most notable tech Chief Executives in the proverbial hot seat.

KEY POINTS:

  • CEO’s of the top four ‘Big Tech’ businesses have been quizzed in a Congressional hearing
  • The questioning ranged from competition and business practices to China and political bias
  • Commentator consensus was that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos performed the best, whilst Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg floundered on certain questions
  • No ‘major blows” were dealt and the Chief Executives were mostly able to deflect and and all criticism

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Apple’s Tim Cook – whose businesses have a combined market value of about $5 billion parried and deflected a range of accusations from lawmakers that they crippled smaller rivals in the quest for market share, via a video conference hearing.

Even though it was Bezos’ first congressional testimony, he appeared the least fazed by the situation. The consensus amongst observers was that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg took the most damage, stumbling at times when confronted with internal Emails.

Bezos escaped questioning for about an hour in what may have been a tech issue, and was caught on screen reaching for what appeared to be a snack.

Lawmakers descended into shouting at points, with a pandemic twist. One lawmaker shouted:”Put your mask on!”

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STEALING CONTENT?

“Why does Google steal content from honest businesses?” he asked.

Cicilline alleged Google stole reviews from Yelp Inc and said Google threatened to de-list Yelp from search results if it objected.

Pichai responded mildly that he would want to know the specifics of the accusation. “We conduct ourselves to the greatest standards,” he added, disagreeing with the characterisation that Google steals content to win users.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg took a series of questions about the company’s purchase of Instagram in 2012 and whether it was acquired because it was a threat.

Zuckerberg responded that the deal had been reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission and that Instagram at the time was a tiny photo-sharing app rather than a social-media phenomenon. “People did not think of these competing with us in that space,” he said.

In one of the more notable exchanges, Representative Pramila Jayapal pushed Mr Zuckerberg on whether Facebook had ever copied its competitors.

“We’ve surely adapted features others have led to,” he said.

“How many companies did Facebook wind up copying?” she asked. “Is it less than five? Greater than 50?”

“Congresswoman, I really don’t understand,” Zuckerberg said.

The hearing was the first time the four Chief Executives have appeared together before lawmakers.

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Jayapal pressed Amazon’s Bezos on whether the company used data from third-party sellers in making sales decisions. An Amazon executive previously had denied the practice under oath and was contradicted by a news report.

Bezos answered cautiously that the company had a policy against such actions. “If we discovered that someone violated it, we would do it against them,” he said.

On the Republican side, Representative Jim Jordan accused the companies of taking a long list of actions that he said showed they try to hamper conservatives from reaching their supporters.

BIAS?

“Big Tech is out to get conservatives,” he said.

Jordan’s allegations come after President Trump, who has clashed with several of the biggest tech companies, on Wednesday threatened to take action against them with executive orders.

Jordan also pressed Pichai on whether Google would help former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, win in November.

“We encourage both campaigns. We approach our work in a nonpartisan fashion,” Mr Pichai responded.

GOP Representative Matt Gaetz pressed Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg on whether content moderators disadvantaged conservative content.

Mr Zuckerberg said they were trained to be neutral. “We plan to become a platform for all ideas,” he said.

“I certainly do not want our platform to be run in this way to have a… bias”

‘STREET FIGHT’

Apple’s Cook rejected the notion there is nothing to stop his company from raising the commissions it charges in the App Store.

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“I disagree strongly with this,” he said. “The competition for developers – they can write their apps for Android or Windows or Xbox or PlayStation. We’ve got fierce rivalry at the developer side and the client side, which can be basically so aggressive I would explain it as a street fight.”

A report about how to manage their market power with antitrust allegations from the four tech platforms and recommendations could be published by late summer or early fall by the committee researcher aides said.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this news article. Initial reporting via our content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Nandita Bose and Diane Bartz in Washington. Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, Paresh Dave and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco, Elizabeth Culliford in Birmingham, UK. Editing by Chris Sanders, Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler.

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