Reflections From the Big Tech Antitrust Hearing

Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google Face Congress

What happened

Yesterday on July 29, 2020 the four biggest names in tech Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Sundar Pichai (Alphabet), and Tim Cook (Apple), appeared before congress remotely to give sworn testimony and answer questions from the House Judiciary's antitrust subcommittee headed by Representative David Cicilline.

The majority of questions revolved around the companies’ use of data, and if their business practices unfairly cripple competition, giving them a monopoly in their respective markets. These questions were formulated after a year-long investigation beginning in June 2019. The hearing went on for roughly 5 and a half hours and was streamed live.

Representative David Cicilline began with opening remarks. The four CEO’s were sworn in and gave a prepared testimony, and then the questioning began.

The testimonies of the four aimed to highlight that they are doing good for Americans and small businesses, and that they indeed have plenty of competition.

Nature of the questions

Each member of the committee was given five minutes to pose a question and receive an answer.

Because all four CEOs were under sworn testimony, putting them at risk of perjury, many answers were along the lines of

“I will follow up on that question and get back to you.”

The questions brought up scenarios which gave examples of aggressive practices of market dominance. One representative called google the “Internet gatekeeper”. Each company by nature was investigated for different offenses, CNET’s article states the differences beautifully:

“All four companies are massively successful, but the competition issues they create are vastly different. With Facebook, officials are examining the company's acquisitions of competitors like Instagram and WhatsApp. For Amazon, the big issue is the company's private-label business, which sells Amazon brands of clothing, food and consumer goods. Apple has been scrutinized for the cut it takes from software developers on its App Store. For Google, the focus is mainly on the search giant's dominance in digital advertising.”

Tim Cook seemed to have been asked the least amount of questions.

What happens next

Representative Cicilline ended the hearing with these remarks:

"Some need to be broken up, all need to be properly regulated and held accountable. We need to ensure the antitrust laws, first written more than a century ago, work in the digital age."

According to Wired:

“The hearing was the last step before the subcommittee issues its final report, capping an investigation that began in June 2019.”

It seems that legislation will be made accordingly.

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin, who will retire this year noted that "Big doesn't necessarily mean bad".

Personal observations

I was surprised by how prepared some of the committee members were with their questions.

As a bystander simply watching, many times it appeared that some members of congress weren’t interested in answers as they constantly interrupted and didn’t give the CEO’s a chance to respond fully. Some politicians however like Representative Neguse from Colorado did give the witnesses time to answer.

It was clear to me however that after a year-long investigation, that the committee has already made up their minds on the issues.

If I just watched the opening testimonies of the CEOs, and knew nothing of their business practices, I was surprised by how easy it was to side with them. They were more charismatic than I had anticipated, especially Bezos.

I was personally pleased that the hearing took place because it is almost impossible to live life without coming into contact, being affected by or using any of the products which Apple, Amazon, Google or Facebook oversee. However, because of the amount of wealth that these four command, I also find myself feeling that somehow not much will change. Loopholes will be found and made use of.  This is just my personal feeling.

From the onset of the hearing one thing did strike me which I didn’t expect.  And as an American I’m trying not to sound bias, -but seeing the four CEOs side by side in a video conference, I was just in awe of such a true representation of America.  Which is that anyone can succeed, regardless of whether you are young, an immigrant or gay, you have the freedom and opportunity to run an empire.

 

Please see the following links for a more in depth coverage of the hearing: