The CEOs of Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon, four of the world's largest tech companies, faced a volley of questions on Wednesday from US lawmakers that covered everything from antitrust to conservative bias. The historic testimony in front of Congress was part of a long-running antitrust investigation that mustered hundreds of hours of interviews and more than a million documents from the four tech giants.
The grueling five-hour-long session involved aggressive hearing that was held in a bid to ascertain if these companies misuse their size and power and if their influence is bad for competition and customers. Needless to say, the lawmakers came up all prepared and with enough evidence to hold the CEOs responsible.
Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Alphabet-owned Google's Sundar Pichai, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Apple's Tim Cook all came up with their defenses in the testimony that they attended via video conferencing. All the four CEOs delivered five-minute opening comments that were published the night before, offering defenses of their platforms. They said they were providing beneficial products and services in a competitive market and their massive size simply makes their services better.
However, the panel of lawmakers comprising representatives from both Republican and Democrat parties showed up with evidence, both in the form of documents and people, wherein they said that the Big Four wielded their power that is harmful for competition. The lawmakers also threw a barrage of questions ranging from privacy concerns, obstructing startups from flourishing by either stealing their technologies or acquiring them and at times misusing their power as gatekeepers in some cases to wield control over the market.
The panel grilled each of the CEOs separately despite their defenses. So much so, that at one point, if not completely, all four indirectly accepted some of the accusations against their respective companies. The companies were also accused of stealing technologies from others and not allowing smaller competitors from promoting their products.
The hearing this time was far more accurate and comprehensive unlike the previous occasions. The representatives also displayed a better understanding of the technology itself than in previous tech hearings.
1. CEOs Asked About Anti-Conservative Bias
Although there were quite a few off-topic moments, which included representatives asking CEOs to commit to not working with companies who use 'slave labor', the four tech giants were also accused of practicing anti-conservative bias.
F. James Sensenbrenner Jr, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said in his opening remarks: "Conservatives are consumers, too, and they need the protection of antitrust laws." The topic popped up time and again during the five-hour session which the CEOs defended with pat replies but were not enough to satisfy the lawmakers. Bezos, when questioned about "cancel culture," described social media as a "nuance-destruction machine."
2. Zuckerberg Grilled the Most
Facebook's data privacy policies were questioned time and again with Zuckerberg going on the defensive most of the time. Rep. Pramila Jayapal unearthed an old email after Zuckerberg didn't reply to a question if Facebook copied its competitors.
The email shared by Jayapal revealed that Zuckerberg told the founder of Instagram during the time of acquiring the company in 2012 that he was building an exact copycat camera service. The founder of Instagram at that time had told an investor that he feared Zuckerberg would go on a destruction mode if he didn't sell his company to Facebook.
3. Bezos Feels the Heat
Much like Zuckerberg, Bezos too was accused of anti-competitive behavior along with using data of third party sellers on Amazon.com to destroy and kill smaller rivals. Bezos was also accused of failure in addressing issues like selling millions of counterfeit products on Amazon's e-commerce platform.
Bezos, defended this by saying that the company was taking adequate measures to avoid sales of counterfeit products and that the Congress should take steps to address the issue. "I would encourage this body to pass stricter penalties for counterfeiters and to increase law enforcement resources to go after counterfeiters," he said. However, he admitted that Amazon uses its e-commerce platform to promote its own products over rivals that don't have similar features.
4. A Better Day for Apple
Cook was comparatively luckier as he faced the least number of questions from the 15-member panel. Cook also had better defenses than his counterparts. The panel questioned Cook on the hefty 30 percent commission Apple charges developers on the App Store for payments.
Cook defended his company's policy saying that the 30 percent commission is a lot lesser than what developers had been paying before the App Store came into existence. He also mentioned that the commission has never been increased from 30 percent over the years and competition would keep the company from increasing it in the future as well.
5. Google's Market Domination Questioned
Pichai fielded a volley of questions that mostly revolved around Google's dominance over the internet. The panel questioned Pichai on the search engine's dominance on news and cited data alleging the company of being unfair to news publishers.
Representatives also questioned if Google steals data from competitors and the way it handles personal data of users. Pichai admitted during the hearing that Google Search despite being automated, uses a manual component to decide which company is to be blacklisted.
Besides, the CEOs were also asked if they believe China steals data from US tech companies. Cook and Pichai both defended that their data is secure and has never been stolen, while Zuckerberg stressed that it was "well documented" that China steals tech from the United States. Bezos somewhat echoed Zuckerberg's sentiment saying that he had heard of such reports but hasn't personally seen them.