Big Tech CEOs faced tough questions at antitrust hearings

Big Tech meets with the antitrust judiciary committee.

The chief executives of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google faced tough questions about their businesses’ respective practices during a Congressional antitrust hearing on Wednesday. The leaders of America’s biggest technology companies argued they do not use their immense reach and influence to hurt rivals.

However, the House Judiciary Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee argued that Big Tech firms maintain ubiquity through anticompetitive measures pledged to make legislative changes.

Facebook’s CEO Questioned About Anticompetitive Practices

Congresspeople confronted Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg with inquiries pertaining to his company’s business practices and supposed anticompetitive activity.

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Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) questioned Zuckerberg about the circumstances surrounding Facebook’s 2012 purchase of Instagram. Nadler brought up emails wherein the CEO discussed acquiring other social media firms with his former CFO, David Ebersman. Although Ebersman counseled against doing so, Zuckerberg argued snapping up services like Instagram and Foursquare would benefit the company’s social dynamics.

Zuckerberg wrote that strategic acquisitions would give his firm breathing room “before anyone can get close to their scale again.”

On Wednesday, the executive admitted he saw Instagram as “a competitor and as a complement to our services” but also noted the Federal Trade Commission approved Facebook’s acquisition of the social network. The founder said the photo-sharing app’s contemporary success was “far from obvious” at the time of its buyout. He posited his firm facilitated the service’s current popularity by building out its infrastructure and improving its security.

Another Congressperson confronted the Facebook head about the brand’s growth-related practices. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) queried Zuckerberg if his corporation ever threatened to copy a rival’s offerings while also moving to acquire it. The executive replied, “not that I recall.”

Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) asked Zuckerberg about his company’s role in disseminating anti-Semitism and aiding election meddling. The CEO responded his platform is committed to fighting election interference and hate speech. When questioned about the #StopHateforProfit boycott campaign, he said Facebook would not “set [its] content policies because of advertisers.”

Amazon Founder Discusses Platform’s Dealings with Third-Party Sellers

In his first appearance before Congress, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos answered questions about his company dealings with third-party sellers.

Representative Lucy McBath (D-GA) related an account from a retailer who claimed Amazon prevented them from selling “entire categories of books” on its platform. The Congresswoman said the e-commerce company never explained why the merchant’s offerings had been rejected.” Bezos said he wanted to contact the bookseller and said the situation was not consistent with his firm’s policies.

Amazon’s CEO fielded questions from Rep. Jayapal about a Wall Street Journal report that his firm used data gleaned from third-party sellers to create rival private-label products. Bezos responded such tactics are against his company’s rules, but conceded violations could have occurred. He also said the issues raised in the article are currently being investigated internally.

Bezos spoke about the role Amazon’s Echo device and digital agent Alexa play in its e-commerce business. Rep. Jamie Raskin asked the founder if the corporation priced its smart speakers below cost to undercut its rivals. Bezos replied his firm sells Echoes at list price unless it is running a sale. He also told Raskin he did not know if Alexa recommends Amazon products by default in response to owner questions.

Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) asked Bezos if Amazon’s practice of making and selling products that compete with those sold by its third-party sellers is a conflict of interest. The executive answered, “The consumer is the one making the decision.”

Google Leader Fields Antitrust Inquiries

House Judiciary Antitrust subcommittee members questioned Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and its parent company Alphabet, about his firm’s alleged antitrust activities.

Rep. Jayapal said Google’s role as both the seller and the buyer in its advertising marketplace represents a conflict of interest. She alleged the firm denies newspapers of income by saddling them with low ad rates and while charging small businesses high ad rates. Jayapal also compared the company’s platform to an unregulated stock market and called its practices analogous to “insider trading.”

In response, Pichai said Google is “deeply committed to journalism in this area” and focused on providing users with the information they desire.

Rep. Cicilline asked Pichai if the world’s largest search engine uses its web traffic monitoring capabilities to stifle competition. The executive replied Google utilizes its data access to chart trends and improve its products just like other businesses.

Pichai also defended YouTube’s practice of restricting advertising buys on its platform to companies that use its ad routing tool. The Alphabet leader argued the video hosting service’s policies are consistent with those held by Facebook, Pinterest, and Snapchat.

Apple Head Takes on App Store Queries

Congress largely confined its questioning of Apple CEO Tim Cook to the activities of the firm’s online application marketplace.

Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) implied the Cupertino, California-based brand alters its App Store policies arbitrarily to suit its interests. He further suggested the iPhone manufacturer makes up rules that benefit large app developers. Cook replied his company treats all the firms in its ecosystem the same way.

The executive also said competition from Google, Microsoft, and Sony keeps it from raising its developer commissions.

Representative Val Butler Demings (D-FL) questioned Cook about a report of Apple banning 11 of the 17 most popular parental control apps on its marketplace. The New York Times reported Apple’s purge occurred right before it released an iOS update with similar parental oversight tools. The executive replied his firm acted because of user privacy concerns and asserted the App Store’s rules are applied evenly. He also stated the company’s marketplace currently hosts over 30 mobile device management applications.

Cook addressed an accusation Apple is trying to profit from the coronavirus pandemic. Rep. Nadler cited a report the brand sought a 30 percent commission from Airbnb and ClassPass for their newly unveiled virtual experiences. As both companies launched their offerings in reaction to the global health crisis’s impact on their business, Nadler asked the executive if his brand is engaging in “pandemic profiteering.” Cook said Apple would never participate in such activity and explained Apple is talking to those developers about the issue.

Final Report to Come in September

The House antitrust subcommittee said it intends to release a report about its findings in September. Chairman Cicilline said, “We need to ensure the antitrust laws first written more than a century ago work in the digital age.”


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