Do Tech CEOs Have Too Much Power: The Hearing on Capitol Hill
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The four biggest tech CEOs in the country were questioned for over five hours by the House's antitrust committee. One of the committee members referred to the four industry titans as emperors of the tech world. All were accused of using their influence and power to try and derail their competition. Google for instance was grilled regarding whether or not they actively try and limit other websites' traffic. Meanwhile, Facebook had to answer questions about its acquisition of Instagram. And Amazon was scrutinized over its diaper prices. Apple's CEO also testified. The question thus stands, have these four created what amount to monopolies.
In line with their growing power, these four, according to House members, are essentially cutting off the consumers' choices—almost completely in some ways. Not to mention, they are overall hampering innovation that could otherwise occur if some of their power was curtailed.
Some of the early questions were directed at Google. Google CEO Sunad Pichai argued against the fact that Google largely sends users to their pages versus being a true search engine dispersing traffic fairly. Pichai claimed that indeed Google has always put users' needs first. He cited the fact that there still is very vigorous competition among a myriad of different websites.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler focused on Facebook, asking a great deal about the social media giant's purchase of Instagram in 2012. He read from emails in which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that he was worried about social media upstarts and their tendency to disrupt. And while the FTC did okay the purchase of Instagram by Facebook, Nadler contended that that decision was a wrong one.
Zuckerberg maintained that Instagram's success came largely because of Facebook as there were no guarantees before the buyout that the Instagram platform would be an eventual success.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon also faced some scrutiny during the hearing. Particularly as regards how Amazon utilizes data from third-party companies, such data that is rather sensitive. Bezos remarked that the data was used by Amazon employees to create competing products. The company incidentally has a policy against this.
And while Bezos could not say for certain that this policy has not been violated, he did assure that action would always be taken in such an instance.
A note was also made of the fact that in 2010 Amazon purchased Diapers.com and then shut the company down, consequently raising prices on its diaper brand. This ultimately, argued one committee member, hurt consumers. Bezos simply stated in response that there are still more places to buy diapers than just on Amazon.
It was Apple CEO Tim Cook who had to deal with questions concerning the Apple app store and the company's treatment of app developers in general.
The five-plus hour hearing before the Judiciary Subcommittee saw all fifteen members grill the four tech CEOs on a wide array of topics. Another that came up frequently was the US and its consequent rivalry with China. Some of the committee members felt that the tech giants could inadvertently be helping the Chinese. The four however vehemently denied any such thing, claiming that their companies embody true American values.
The hearing of course put the spotlight on some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the country. Bezos and Zuckerberg are among the richest people in the world. According to recent numbers, between them, they have over 265 billion in wealth.
The corporations, needless to say, are among the globe's most valuable. And they subsequently impact the lives of billions. Their values are in the trillions for the most part. The President has said before that if Congress doesn't act on this, he might issue an executive order.
While Trump has had a rocky relationship with the Amazon CEO, he has had better interactions with Zuckerberg and Tim Cook. Trump is very open about the fact that he eyes what the giant tech companies are doing as wrong.
A report is currently being prepared regarding anti-competitive practices and whether or not they serve as basis enough for new legislation aimed at the tech industry. Many are calling for Congress to make it easier for the giant tech firms to be sued. Some believe that if the Democrats do score big wins come November that in fact, this bill could potentially pass.
Cook said he understood why Congress had decided to scrutinize the tech industry. He did say however that Apple's actions have been lawful and that he makes "no concession on the facts."
Republicans had an issue with what they saw as these tech companies censoring conservative viewpoints on their respective platforms. That has been one of the President's main complaints as well regarding some of these companies. According to the ranking Republican on the committee, conservatives also deserve the protections found under antitrust laws concerning any evident censorship.
The four tech CEOs testified via video conference, as did some of the committee members in light of the current crisis.
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