Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, and Facebook CEOs Testify Before the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee on the Dominance of Big Tech

Jul 31, 2020

by ASME.org

On July 29, the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee heard from the CEOs of four major U.S. tech companies in the sixth hearing of an investigation into online platforms and market power. For over five hours, lawmakers questioned Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Sundar Pichai of Google about whether or not their companies’ business practices have violated antitrust laws. In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline noted that, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to virtual services across many aspects of daily life, these companies are likely to emerge stronger than ever before. Because of their significant role in Americans’ daily lives, the business decisions of these companies have an outsize effect on the U.S. economy and society.
 
Much of the hearing focused on reports that the four companies frequently act to stifle competition, either by undermining sales or by purchasing the other company outright. Congressman Jerry Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, cited Facebook’s purchase of Instagram in 2012 as an example. Nadler read from reports that had been submitted to the Subcommittee, quoting Zuckerberg as having called Instagram a “disruption” and “threat” to Facebook and that buying it would “neutralize a competitor.” When questioned, Zuckerberg called Instagram both a competitor and complement to Facebook’s services but also emphasized that the site’s success was not guaranteed, and that it had flourished as a result of Facebook’s investment. Nadler responded by saying that Facebook saw Instagram as a threat and bought it rather than compete, which is “exactly what the antitrust laws were passed to prevent.”
 
Chairman Cicilline pointed out that the dominance of these four tech companies often means that smaller businesses have no other option than to use their services to promote their businesses. This becomes a problem when the tech giants act as a “wall” to determine who can and cannot get internet traffic. Cicilline noted that Google’s business model in particular is a problem, citing reports that the site shows customers the most profitable search results rather than the most relevant. Pichai defended Google, saying that it is a supporter of small businesses and that “1/3 would have had to close... during COVID without Google’s online resources.”
 
The CEOs also faced questions about biases and censorship, particularly of conservative viewpoints. Ranking Member Jim Sensenbrenner noted that “conservatives are customers too” and asked Zuckerberg about Facebook’s standards to filtering out political speech that “some people” may not agree with. Zuckerberg responded that Facebook is “one of the companies that defends free expression the most” and that its community standards seek to filter out harmful information or hate speech. Congressman Greg Steube asked a similar question to Google’s Pichai, specifically asking about bias among Google’s employees potentially influencing the search algorithms. Pichai responded that there are “no biases in the algorithm” and later told lawmakers they had his commitment that Google would not be used to silence conservatives.
 
Representative Sensenbrenner indicated that he did not think the current antitrust laws needed to change, but rather that they needed to be more strongly enforced. To that end, this hearing was another step in the investigations of these tech companies by the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission, and state attorney generals. The Justice Department is expected to soon announce charges against Google accusing it of abusing its dominance in online advertising. Zuckerberg may also be called to testify under oath before the Federal Trade Commission in relation to Facebook’s acquisition of rival companies.
 
For the full hearing, please visit here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBFDQvIrWYM&feature=emb_title.
 

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