Top Tech CEOs Defend Actions to Congress in Anti-Trust Hearing
America’s biggest tech companies have been investigated by federal agencies for more than a year, but the top CEOs had their first public questioning last week before the House Judiciary Committee in a group virtual interview. Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Sundar Pichai of Google and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook were all on the hot seat for several hours.
While some critics say the hearing was tainted by politics, as when Republicans complained about censorship on social media platforms such as Facebook, according to a story in the New York Times, others asked tough, specific questions that lacked the deference shown a few years ago.
A column by Margaret O’Mara said:
“Given the history of Silicon Valley’s relationship with Washington, the intensity and precision of some subcommittee members’ questions were remarkable. It is a sign that significant tech regulation may be closer than we think.”
To give a sense of how the committee addressed the CEOs after fawning praise in earlier hearings, here is the opening comment from the chair:
“Our founders would not bow before a king nor should we bow before the emperors of a digital economy,” said Rep. David Cicilline, chair of the antitrust subcommittee.
Geekwire.com wrote about the hearing, noting that early questioning focused on Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, Apple’s treatment of third-party app developers, and Google’s dominance in search, and later Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington who represents Amazon’s base in Seattle, said to Bezos:
“You have access to data that far exceeds the sellers on your platform with whom you compete … you have access to the entirety of sellers’ pricing and inventory — information past, present, and future — and you dictate the participation of third-party sellers on your platform, so you can set the rules of the game for your competitors but not follow those rules yourself. Do you think that’s fair to the mom and pop businesses who can sell on your platform?”
The kid gloves are off. The question referred to a Wall Street Journal investigation from April that found Amazon uses detailed data on third-party sellers in its marketplace to inform the development of in-house products.
Amazon's Assoc. General Counsel told me under oath that Amazon does NOT, “use any specific seller data when creating its own private brand product.”
Reports revealed that was a lie: that they DO access data on third party sellers.
So I just asked Jeff Bezos which it is. Watch: pic.twitter.com/MiR7NHI7Y8
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) July 29, 2020
Amazon’s treatment of third-party sellers is being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission, which is in charge of regulating anti-trust violations.
According to a story on Wired.com, accountability by and regulation of the Big Four is coming after years of piecemeal efforts.
“That the rules of the game have shifted in ways that we will look back as piercing Silicon Valley’s aura of invincibility was apparent on Wednesday when those four leaders—of Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Alphabet—appeared before a House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust. Armed with emails obtained by subpoena and informed by interviews with those who have been devastated by these companies’ overwhelming market power, the members of the subcommittee drilled down to get the executives to admit they used their monopolistic powers to smash any and all competition.”
While the European Union has put privacy safeguards and other regulations in place and is working on AI guidelines, the United States lags far behind in its efforts to rein in the companies.
“There is no choice but to reclaim the unchecked power these platforms wield. This is about more than Facebook spreading fake cures and voter suppression; or YouTube sending its users down rabbit holes of conspiracy and hate; or Apple and Amazon becoming so central in how we get news and entertainment, and how we conduct commerce. This is about how a nation protects its people.”
Highlights in text and in a sound recording of the hearing can be found at npr.org.
read more at wired.com
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