Both Democrats and Republicans gave sharp blows to Google and Facebook at a hearing of the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust while questioning four of America’s biggest tech companies’ market power on Wednesday (July 29).
Congressional lawmakers finally got a chance to grill the CEOs of Big Tech over their dominance and allegations of monopolistic practices that stifle competition.
In a video conference hearing the CEOs of Facebook – Mark Zuckerberg, Google – Sundar Pichai, Apple – Tim Cook and Amazon – Jeff Bezos faced a range of accusations from the lawmakers that they crippled smaller rivals in the quest for market share. The combined market value of the tech titans is $5 trillion.
Mark Zuckerberg faced the heat when an internal company email he sent in 2012 was acquired by the panel as part of the investigation was put to discussion. In one email, Zuckerberg said Instagram could be “very disruptive” to Facebook. This was followed by Facebook buying Instagram for $1 billion. Representative Jerry Nadler said the emails showed Facebook viewed Instagram as a threat and, rather than compete with it, his company bought it.
Zuckerberg responded by saying he did not deny viewing Instagram as a threat, but pointed out that the deal was approved by the Federal Trade Commission at the time.
When questioned by Representative Pramila Jayapal on how many companies, competitors did Facebook copy, Zuckerberg said,”I don’t know.”
The mood of the hearing was set when Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat and chair of the antitrust subcommittee began by accusing Google of theft. “Why does Google steal content from honest businesses?” he asked, while alleging that Google stole reviews from Yelp Inc and threatened that the company would be delisted from search results if they protested.
Sundar Pichai denied the accusation mildly and requested to know the specifics of the accusation. “We conduct ourselves to the highest standards,” he added.
Though it was Jeff Bezos’s first time appearing for a hearing he appeared the least fazed and fielded all the questions calmly. He was asked whether the company used data from third-party sellers in making sales decisions. He constructed his answer carefully and said that his company had a policy against such actions.
At various times in the hearing, Bezos either said he couldn’t answer the question or couldn’t recall the incident he was being questioned about, CNN reported.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, on the other hand, got off pretty lightly. There were a fewquestions about whether Apple favors certain developers on its App Store, to which Cook “strongly disagreed.” “The competition for developers – they can write their apps for Android or Windows or Xbox or PlayStation. We have fierce competition at the developer side and the customer side, which is essentially so competitive I would describe it as a street fight,” he said.
This is the first time all the four CEOs of the Big Tech companies are appearing together before lawmakers.
(With inputs from agencies)