Consumers have increased their reliance on large technology companies over the last decade, and that reliance has been even greater during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But many in Congress -- both Republicans and Democrats -- are worried that these companies are too big and powerful.
The executives have testified before Congress in the past about privacy issues. Wednesday’s questioning focused mostly on the expanding role these firms have in consumers’ lives and whether that role has simply gotten too big.
“Our founders would not bow before a king,” said subcommittee chairman Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.). “Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy.”
Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg all defended their respective business practices and all declared that they have plenty of competition in the marketplace.
Internal documents cited
But lawmakers, armed with background research, argued that the various companies’ internal documents sometimes tell a different story. In particular, lawmakers challenged Zuckerberg on Facebook’s acquisition of rival Instagram, which is favored by younger consumers.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y) cited an email in which Zuckerberg described Instagram as a threat to Facebook’s growth before his company bought it in 2012. Nadler said that was a good example of an “anti-competitive acquisition” that antitrust laws were supposed to prevent. Zuckerberg replied that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) during the Obama administration had access to that document when it gave its approval to the acquisition.
Google, meanwhile, was accused of holding too much power to direct web traffic, but Pichai insisted there is plenty of competition in the area of web search.
Cook was challenged about Apple’s dominance in app development, but he assured lawmakers that developers are treated fairly. Bezos, making his first appearance before Congress, defended Amazon’s role in the retail marketplace and said his company has plenty of competition.
Some in Congress have suggested that large technology firms should be broken up, though none appeared to go that far during the five-hour grilling. If they had, the CEOs would likely have pointed out their size and power have served consumers’ interests fairly well, especially over the last four months.