The morning after: Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon grilled by Congress

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Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, and Sundar Pichai appeared in front of the House judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee yesterday and were told the big tech companies they represent have too much power, are spreading fake news, and “killing” the engines of the American economy.

The bosses of Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google were grilled at the landmark hearing in Washington with intense questioning from lawmakers. The subcommittee is reported to have collected 1.3 million documents as part of its year-long investigation into the dominance of the masters of our online universe. David Cicilline, chairman of the subcommittee, was in a combative mood, accusing the giants of stifling competition and threatening an antitrust crackdown.

For Mark Zuckerberg, the focus of the questioning was on the way Facebook acquires and copies features of its competition to wipe them out. Jerry Nadler, the representative for New York, said that this type of anticompetitive acquisition is what the antitrust laws were designed to prevent, and should never have happened in the first place. “It should never have been permitted to happen. It cannot happen again,” he told Congress.

Facebook apps
Facebook’s acquisitions have included WhatsApp and Instagram. / © NextPit

For Tim Cook and Apple, most of the questioning surrounded its App Store practices. Lucy McBath, a Democrat from Georgia, raised allegations Apple had removed competitors’ apps from its App Store. Cook denied the allegation, which was the line all of the big tech bosses took throughout the day’s hearing. “If Apple wasn’t attempting to harm competitors in order to help its own app, why did Phil Schiller, who runs the App Store, promote the Screen Time app to customers who complained about the removal of rival parental control apps?” asked McBath.

For Alphabet, Google, and Sundar Pichai, it was the company’s advertising policies that were under the microscope. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington state Democrat, asked Google it could be anything other than a monopoly when it controls 90 percent of the global online search market.

Apple iPhone SE 2020
Apple’s App Store practices were heavily questioned. / © AndroidPIT

There was a lot of shirking, ducking, and diving from the well-known faces of the world’s biggest online brands. When questioned, Jeff Bezos of Amazon claimed more than once to not to know Amazon’s data collection policies. Dania Rajendra, director of Athena, a non-profit group of activists against Amazon’s centralized power, said that Bezos seemed to be unaware of the widespread harms that Amazon inflicts.

Zuckerberg, who must be getting used to appearing in front of Congress to shuffle uncomfortably in a chair, initially claimed to not know anything about the controversial Facebook Research app that pays users for their data. He later amended his statement on record to acknowledge the study.

Perhaps the strongest words of the day though came from Cicilline, the Democratic representative for Rhode Island, who said in his closing statement: “These companies, as they exist today, have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up, all need to be properly regulated and held accountable. This must end.”

We will have to wait and see what kind of antitrust legislation comes out of these hearings, but the tide does seem to be shifting somewhat on the biggest tech giants. Watch this space.





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