Highlights of the Congressional Big Tech Hearing
The CEO’s of four of the biggest tech companies: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Apple’s Tim Cook testify in front of Congress in an antitrust probe; to answer one of the fundamental questions, that has found its way into multiple potential policies and political narratives: are these four companies too powerful? The hearing came with a series of interesting reveals, admissions, and stands.
Facebook is known worldwide, for not only its own very successful social media platform but also having acquired two other of the possibly biggest social platforms: WhatsApp and Instagram. One of its less well-known ventures, however, is Onavo, a web analytics app that has been alleged of singling out potential competitors for Facebook. The allegation, however, was brushed aside by Zuckerberg, claiming that it was to “understand what [they're] consumers were enjoying”. Onavo has also been involved in an EU Antitrust law and was removed from the App Store for gathering data.
The App Store, itself, was pressed for keeping the gates too narrow, to which Cook replied, “We held ourselves to an even higher standard… we wanted to provide a venue for creators large and small”.
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg and Facebook continue to get questioned on its fake news policies, this case, specifically concerning a video with false coronavirus claims. Rep. Cicilline, asked Zuckerberg: “Doesn’t that suggest, Mr. Zuckerberg, your platform is so big that even with the right policies in place, you can’t contain deadly content?”, having cited multiple fake theories and ideas about the COVID-19 Pandemic, that were going viral, suggesting that such videos could even be deadly and have tragic repercussions. Zuckerberg Replied that Facebook is doing an exemplary job ensuring correct information, especially pertaining to Health and it will continue to do so.
Even Jeff Bezos had a hard time, defending his policies within Amazon. In previous statements, he has claimed that using data from individual retailers can give an unfair advantage to Amazon’s products. But Amazon can use “aggregate data” i.e. data from multiple sellers. Rep. Armstrong, after drilling Bezos further, made him concede that aggregate could mean only a definitive nod towards speculation that Amazon might be misusing third party data.
A case was also being made against Google, suggesting its high-level search engine mechanism can help benefit Google, by incentivizing companies to pay to be seen. Google’s dominance in smartphone software, search and online advertising are few of the most complicated antitrust allegations, as Google has major dominance in almost every major sector. It has a 90% share in multiple parts of the digital ad market, making it one of the most powerful advertisement platforms.
The probe is a big (also being bipartisan) step towards taking a look at an industry that has created its own rules for a very long time. Even if breaking up big tech isn’t anytime in the future, creating legislation that won’t stifle competition and benefit the economy, might be the ulterior consequence of the probe.