Big questions for Big Tech
Politics | Top executives field accusations of bias and anticompetitiveness
by Kyle Ziemnick
Posted 7/29/20, 06:13 pm
WASHINGTON—Republicans and Democrats alike challenged CEOs from the largest U.S. tech companies at a congressional hearing on Wednesday.
Sundar Pichai of Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Tim Cook of Apple all testified remotely before the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust law. The proceeding came after an investigation of more than a year amid growing bipartisan concerns over the enormous power of America’s technology giants.
“As gatekeepers of the digital economy, these platforms enjoy the power to pick winners and losers, to shake down small businesses, and enrich themselves while choking off competitors,” subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I., said.
Democrats, including Cicilline and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York, focused their questioning on Google and Facebook’s possible violations of antitrust law. Cicilline pressed Pichai over the use of smaller businesses’ information to drive traffic to Google’s websites and ads rather than the most relevant search results. Nadler grilled Zuckerberg on Facebook’s purchase of Instagram in 2012, calling it “exactly the kind of anticompetitive acquisition that the antitrust laws were designed to prevent.”
Several Democrats attacked Bezos for Amazon policies that could drive certain sellers on the platform out of business.
In response, the CEOs repeatedly emphasized the competition they face, mostly pointing to each other as their largest opponents. “Competition in ads—from Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Comcast, and others—has helped lower online advertising costs by 40 percent over the last 10 years,” Pichai said in his opening statement.
Republicans shifted the discussion to censorship and privacy. In his opening statement, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, blasted the tech leaders for their platforms disallowing posts by conservative activists and limiting traffic to right-wing websites.
“I’ll just cut to the chase: Big Tech is out to get conservatives,” he said.
Earlier this week, Twitter temporarily suspended Donald Trump Jr.’s account for spreading what it called COVID-19 misinformation.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Zuckerberg went back and forth over the information Facebook marks as incorrect. Sensenbrenner, although admitting he would not take the drug, asked why Facebook would censor posts that uphold hydroxychloroquine as a potential COVID-19 treatment or preventive medication. Zuckerberg said the drug had never been proven as a cure for the virus and that censoring posts claiming otherwise would prevent people from taking it and potentially hurting themselves.
No congressman indicated that the government would take specific action against any of the four companies.
In a tweet during the hearing, President Donald Trump threatened to take matters into his own hands: “If Congress doesn’t bring fairness to Big Tech, which they should have done years ago, I will do it myself with Executive Orders.”
Kyle is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.