On Wednesday, Sundar Pichai of Google, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook all answered questions from House lawmakers about whether their business practices were anti-competitive.
A lot of actionable topics were broached, most of them by Democrats who chose to stick to the topic at hand. Every Republican, with exception of Ken Buck (R-CO), limited their inquiry to culture war topics like conservative shadowbanning and an alleged Big Tech conspiracy to silence right-leaning media. Faced with ample testimonial evidence of their monopolistic practices, each CEO had some explaining to do.
The hearing went on for over five hours, so maybe you didn't tune in. Or, if you did, you weren't posting about it. Facebook mentions of Amazon, Google, and Facebook remained low yesterday.
Here, we present the most pressing questions the committee asked and how the CEOs answered.
- Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) brought up testimony showing that Amazon used tiny product categories as a supposed “aggregate” dataset. This allowed Amazon to micro-target it’s sellers’ data, gain information on their customers, and allow Amazon to produce similar products at a reduced rate.
- Multiple examples of this lopsided dynamic were brought to the floor: speaker maker Sonos, accessory maker PopSocket, and an anonymous small textbook distributor are among them. Amazon was accused of “bullying” and “threatening” such companies, and ignoring their complaints.
- Especially fascinating: In response to these problems, Bezos admitted that AWS uses seller information to inform how it rolls out competing products. Both Jayapal and Cicilline expressed great concern at this, and restated the need for Amazon to be held accountable.
- Multiple congresspeople derided Facebook’s practice of threatening its competitors to force acquisition. In the case of Instagram, Zuckerberg warned the company’s management that Facebook was working on competitive functionalities.
- Zuckerberg defended his acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, pointing out that it helped both grow as independent brands.
EXCLUSIVE: We have the internal Facebook emails where Zuckerberg discussed buying Instagram to "neutralize a competitor." The emails are being discussed in the hearing now. https://t.co/1LvGdiVrnI— nilay patel (@reckless) July 29, 2020
- Chairman Cicilline came out swinging with his first question: “Why does Google steal content from honest businesses?” Multiple members of Congress brought up examples, like when lyric annotator Genius caught Google red-handed lifting content from their site. He brought up that Google had done the same to Yelp, as well as threatened to delist the restaurant reviewer.
- Jayapal likened Google’s practice of selling ad space while buying their own ads to insider trading. Being in charge of the marketplace this way gives them a huge competitive advantage over their adbuyers, who they can overcharge at will.
- Congresswoman Demings (D-FL) took Pichai to task. Pichai admits that he okayed combining users’ Google search data with their personal identity in 2016. Google said they would never do so in 2007.
- Republicans went after Google for backing out of the competition for Project Maven, a Pentagon artificial intelligence contract, while working on AI with developers in China.
- Tim Cook received the least attention by far. However, multiple Dems expressed concern for the 30% charge on certain sales made in the App Store. Many thought the price was too steep.
- Cook argued that his store itself was a “revolutionary alternative” to online marketplaces of the early internet. “If Apple is a gatekeeper, we’ve only opened the gate much wider.”