Big Tech CEOs faced an avalanche of criticism from US lawmakers on Wednesday at a high-risk antitrust hearing that could lay the groundwork for stricter regulation of major Internet platforms.
CEOs Tim Cook of Apple, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Sundar Pichai of Google were questioned for more than five hours in the unprecedented joint appearance, by video, before a House of Representatives panel investigating the domain. From the market.
While the audience was called to focus on whether companies abuse their dominant positions in the market, it quickly drifted to issues like political biases, privacy, dealings with China, and how platforms address misinformation.
“Simply put, they have too much power,” said Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat who chairs the panel that conducts a one-year investigation into the business practices of the four companies.
Cicilline said the audience made it clear that companies “have monopoly power: some need to be dismantled, all need to be properly regulated and held accountable.”
Congress has no formal role in the enforcement of the antitrust law, but several lawmakers seemed determined to revise the laws of the United States to deal with the extraordinary market power and dominance of large technology companies.
“Antitrust storm clouds appear to be growing on the ring road against Big Tech,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a note to investors.
“With today’s audiences setting the stage for a battle royale in the next 6 to 9 months.”
– Pandemic strength –
Cicilline told lawmakers and Big Tech CEOs that the coronavirus outbreak has strengthened the influence of all four, saying: “They are likely to emerge (from the pandemic) stronger and more powerful than ever.”
Some lawmakers sought to minimize the competitive danger from companies, which have been praised for innovating and introducing new technologies and offering lifelines during virus blocking.
“Being big is not inherently bad,” said Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin. “On the contrary, in the United States, you should be rewarded for success.”
– Platform abuse? –
Lawmakers during the Big Tech CEO coup also highlighted issues with the operating platforms of tech companies that their rivals relied on.
Pichai was pressured as to whether Google’s advertising platform tactics harm other Internet players, such as the media.
Apple’s Cook faced tough questions about the market power of the company’s app store and its treatment of developers.
“We treat all application developers the same way,” said Cook. “We do not retaliate or intimidate people.”
Bezos, in his first appearance before a congressional committee, defended Amazon’s deals with third-party sellers after a devastating attack by Cicilline.
“We have heard from outside vendors over and over during the course of our investigation that Amazon is the only game in town,” the committee chairman told the company founder.
Bezos disputed the characterization and added: “There are many options for small companies … I think we are the best.”
– Play politics –
President Donald Trump, who accused Facebook and Twitter of censoring his comments and being biased against conservatives, chimed in with a tweet shortly before the hearing.
“If Congress does not bring justice to Big Tech, which they should have done years ago, I will do it myself with executive orders,” Trump said.
Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, said during the hearing: “I will just get to the point: Big Tech will try to get conservatives.” That is not a suspicion. That is not a hunch. It is a fact.”
Democrat Jamie Raskin of Maryland rejected the argument, saying Facebook and other platforms have been unable to contain the misinformation from Trump and his supporters, including unverified COVID-19 claims.
“If Facebook is trying to suppress conservative speech, they are doing a terrible job,” Raskin said. “I don’t understand this endless regret” of the Republicans.
– Going forward –
Some analysts said the audience could lay the groundwork to review U.S. antitrust laws, which currently make it difficult for law enforcement officers to target companies simply because they are big.
“There was considerable skepticism towards the technology sector, as lawmakers are concerned about unfair competition and unfair practices,” said Darrell West, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation.
“If Democrats gain control in the (November election), this hearing will serve as a plan to improve regulatory oversight,” West said.
Michael Carrier, a professor of antitrust law at Rutgers University, said that while “the hearing showed that the representatives did their homework,” he did not believe the hearing led to swift action.
Avery Gardiner, a former government antitrust lawyer who follows competition for the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the hearing did not demonstrate specific anti-competitive actions, leaving the matter now to regulatory agencies.