A rare public showdown between Congress and the CEOs of tech’s biggest companies in antitrust hearing took place on Wednesday, July 29 at 12 PM Eastern Time. The hearing, titled “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 6: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google” saw the most powerful leaders in the field of technology face off with lawmakers.
This hearing is notable, as it heard testimony from four of them. In the hearing, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook all faced questions. These questions were about their company practices and concerns that anti-competitive behavior is impacting some of tech’s key markets for the worse.
To explain, the hearing is part of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee’s ongoing 13-month Antitrust Investigation. Of course, the investigation targets many of tech’s largest, most powerful companies. The Investigation was first announced last year.
What is the big deal about this Antitrust Investigation?
The hearing was the government’s most aggressive show against tech power. That is, since the hunt to break up Microsoft two decades ago. Ironically, four men who run companies worth a total of around $4.85 trillion, including two of the world’s richest individuals, will argue that their businesses are not really that powerful after all.
In recent years, many Congressional hearings examining tech companies have took place; but usually those companies send their lead counsel and not their CEOs. A tech CEO appearing before Congress points towards a real enough threat to their business with regard to whatever they’re testifying about.
None of the leaders are taking any chances for the hearing to go against them. Zuckerberg, at his 750-acre estate on the Hawaiian island of Kauai prepared for his testimony with the law firm WilmerHale. Bezos worked with a small team for his testimony in Seattle.
Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg have all testified before Congress before. Pichai in 2018, Zuckerberg in 2018 and 2019 and Tim Cook way back in 2013. However, this is the first time Jeff Bezos has agreed to come before Congress.
The Accusations unearthed by the Antitrust Investigation
Congress accuses Amazon of misusing its role as both a retailer, and a platform hosting third-party sellers on its marketplace. Apple is accused of unfairly using its clout over its App Store to block rivals. Additionally, it is accused of forcing apps to pay high commissions.
Whereas rivals have alleged that Facebook has a monopoly in social networking. On the other hand, Alphabet, the parent company of Google is handling multiple antitrust allegations. The reason being its dominance in online advertising, search and smartphone software.
Arguments By Apple
Cook clarified that the smartphone market is fiercely competitive. Additionally, he stated that companies like Samsung, LG, Huawei, and Google have built very successful smartphone businesses offering different approaches. In a prepared remark before his appearance, Cook defended the company’s 30 per cent fee of digital transactions on the App Store.
Arguments By Facebook
Explicitly, Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 and WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014. Of course, Zuckerberg defended these acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp in his prepared remarks.
Arguments By Amazon
Unlike its counterparts, Bezos agreed that Amazon should face scrutiny.
For example, more than 80 retailers in the U.S. alone earn over $1 billion in annual revenue. Bezos argued that Amazon competes against large, established players like Target, Costco, Kroger, and, of course, Walmart – a company more than twice Amazon’s size. Notably, Walmart’s online sales grew 74 per cent in the first quarter.
Arguments By Google
Alphabet and Google CEO Pichai, in his prepared testimony, stated that the company’s services like Search offer major benefits for consumers and small businesses.
Pichai added that Google builds platforms that support the innovation of others, referring to the Android operating system.
Read all four statements in full here.
Did the Antitrust Investigation left out Twitter and Microsoft?
Last week, House Republicans led by Jim Jordan called on Twitter to appear at tech’s big antitrust hearing. He claimed that the day would be “incomplete” without an appearance from Jack Dorsey. Notably, Twitter CEO, Dorsey has made appearances before Congress before, but the Congress rightfully ignored the latest request.
While often likened to the status of rival companies like Facebook and YouTube, Twitter is a comparatively small company with a huge impact on society. However, it is not suspected of market-shaping practices that could throw competitors out. For instance, Twitter’s market capitalization is $29 billion; while Facebook’s market capitalization is $667 billion.
Whereas, compared to Twitter, Microsoft is massive and a more natural fit for the hearing, the company has a much more storied history of government scrutiny. Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline himself said that regulatory enforcement against Microsoft two decades ago “made space for an enormous amount of additional innovation and competition.”
The hearing was originally scheduled for Monday. However, the congressional hearing was postponed in the wake of the death of civil rights icon and Democratic Congressman John Lewis.