Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, CEOs Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, Jeff Bezos & Tim Cook virtually appeared in front of the US Congress to be interrogated in the antitrust probe.
Ready to be scrutinized, all the CEOs in the testimony addressed the competition they are surrounded by and apparently mentioned that the giants are not too big themselves, per se. They remembered late Congressman John Lewis and remained focused on American values.
In the virtual testimony’s opening statement, Pichai & Bezos began with their childhood whereas Cook & Zuckerberg said that their competitors were much bigger.
The antitrust subcommittee had been planning to summon the tech giants for over an year now, and came prepared in advance with all testimonies, emails and statements from small businesses, the firms’ ex-employees and partners. Questions on everything from anti-competitive practices, censorship to bullying tactics were asked, and they were also grilled about how the massive amount of power they hold in the free global.market. It is interesting to note here that the four companies have a combined market cap worth approx. $5 trillion.
The world’s richest man, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, during his the first public appearance in front of the Congress seemed a bit nervous in the start but found his footing shortly after commencing. He was grilled for allegedly promoting in-house products through Alexa speakers, contradicting the company’s policies and whether Amazon scrapes data from third-party sellers to release competing products in the Amazon marketplace. During the hearing, the Chair of the sub-committee said that Amazon has grown so big that third party sellers have described it as a “drug”.
During the Congressional grilling, Google CEO Sundar Pichai had the toughest round of questioning; pertainingto his relations with China and whether the platform suppresses Conservative voices. Google owns a massive amount of digital advertising space and the Congress wanted to know how much power it possesses. The US Justice Department is already probing into Google’s online market and advertising space activities
Facebook, the largest social networking platform, is also already facing a lot of other antitrust probes including one from the Federal Trade Commission. FTC, the US Department of Justice, the House Antitrust Committee and a group of state attorneys generals are looking into whether the social network’s acquisitions were a part of its strategy to stumble competition.
Facebook founder Zuckerberg was summoned for his innovation strategies during the pandemic such as putting down fake news regarding COVID19 and the big question on anti-competitive behaviour of producing identical products like its competitors to scare them off. (For eg., the launch of the Facebook Camera App before buying Instagram). He denied those allegations and said, “It was public that we were building a camera app at that time.” Zuckerberg testified that Facebook is not as big as its competitors like Tik Tok, Google and several others.
In 2008, Apple developed its own app store, at the time the store had 500 apps whereas the number today stands at around 1.7 million. Apple’s Cook was quizzed about the store and how they blocked third party apps and prioritized Apple-owned apps. Cook defended his company saying that after beginning with 500 apps, today the App Store hosts more than 1.7 million apps — only 60 of which were introduced with the Apple software. “Clearly, if Apple is a gatekeeper, what we have done is open the gate wider. We want to get every app we can on the store, not keep them off,” he rued. He was also questioned on the profit they make from app developers.
Towards the end of each round 9f interrogation the answer from all four was- Can we get back on this the next time? The next antitrust hearing is scheduled on Wednesday.
President Donald Trump has already issued an executive order which mostly targets Twitter and threatens to ban TikTok, the popular Chinese video app.