Tech Titans Zoom in to Washington’s Antitrust Hearing
Yesterday, for the first time, top executives from Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon teleconferenced into the Capitol for an antitrust hearing in front of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Apple’s Tim Cook sat (virtually because of COVID-19 fears) for questioning from Democrats and Republicans.
The Democratic line of questioning, headed by Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI), zeroed in on the anti-competitive and monopolistic nature of the power amassed by the four tech titans. Rep. Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Jayapal (D-WA), who is shaping up to be a fierce questioner in hearings, led questions around Facebook’s gobbling up of would-be competitors, Apple’s gatekeeping at the App Store, Amazon’s reported stealing competitor 3-party information and Google’s devaluing of competitors on its platforms.
Republicans went with a line of questioning that started with “big is not necessarily bad” and then veered off into concerns over censorship of conservative views. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), as well as others, questioned particularly Google’s Pichai on the company’s relationship with China, contrasting that with event’s like Google dropping out of Project Maven, a contract with the American military, and the company’s BLM stance. In fact Pichai, the only non-American testifying, was questioned the most over the length of the hearings.
What now? It’s safe to say that what happens next depends on how the election in November goes. If Democrats win either the Senate or Presidency or both (and keep a hold of the House), Chairman Cicilline and Rep. Nadler made it clear that they believe new antitrust laws need to be written to curtail the power of the tech industry, likening the men before them to Rockefeller and Carnegie.
If Republicans hold on to the power they now enjoy, antitrust regulation is less likely, but companies may be singled out and punished for perceived First Amendment violations. However, Republicans would have to win the House on top of everything in November for congressional action to be a real threat.