Watch: US Congress Grills Amazon, Apple, Facebook & Google’s CEOs

The CEOs are set be grilled on a variety of antitrust business practices that each company has been accused of.

Updated29 Jul 2020, 03:39 PM IST
Explainers
6 min read

You can watch the antitrust hearing and testimonies of the CEOs live below:

The story has been updated after Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple released opening statements before Wednesday’s hearing in front of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee.

United States Congress is set to grill the CEOs of four tech giants – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – on Wednesday, 29 July, on a variety of antitrust business practices that each company has been accused of.

In what has been touted as one of the most notable Congressional hearings in Silicon Valley’s history, the 15-member House Judiciary Committee will be questioning Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai via video conferencing.

The purpose of such a hearing is to determine the adequacy of existing competition laws and whether to rein in such large companies’ ability to create monopolies. This has been an ongoing debate in the US and across the world where tech giants bat aggressively for self regulation.

The hearing comes in a year when all the four companies have announced investments in India. Google, on 13 July, announced a $10 billion fund to “help accelerate India’s digital economy,” and two days later confirmed a $4.5 billion investment in Jio Platforms.

Facebook, too, announced $5.7 billion into Jio Platforms in April and Bezos pledged $1 billion in January to partner with MSMEs. Apple recently announced it will manufacture its flagship device, the iPhone 11, at Chennai’s Foxconn plant.

Watch: US Congress Grills Amazon, Apple, Facebook & Google’s CEOs

  1. 1. Why is the Hearing Taking Place?

    The hearing, titled 'Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 6: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple' is known as an evidentiary hearing.

    This is because the CEOs will testify “as part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation of competition in the digital marketplace,” the House Judiciary Committee states.

    Antitrust Subcommittee of US Congress has been gathering evidence for over 13-months on allegations of anti-competition practices and abuse of their dominant positions in digital marketplaces.

    “Given the central role these corporations play in the lives of the American people, it is critical that their CEOs are forthcoming. As we have said from the start, their testimony is essential for us to complete this investigation.”
    Joint statement by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline.
    Expand
  2. 2. Amazon

    The Seattle-based company has come under intense criticism for a host of anti-competitive practices.

    Primary among them is how the company Amazon has used data of independent sellers on the company’s platform to develop its own competing products and give them better visibility and promotion.

    The scale of this problem can be gauged by the fact that the European Union is preparing to bring strong antitrust charges against Amazon of edging our smaller rivals and stifling competition.

    This will be Bezos’ first-ever testimony before US Congress. He has said little on this issue while the company’s stance has, so far, been that they haven’t indulged in such practices and that this goes against their stated business practices.

    Amazon has prepared an opening statement for the hearing where company CEO Jezz will touch upon how “Every day, Amazon competes against large, established players like Target, Costco, Kroger, and, of course, Walmart — a company more than twice Amazon’s size.”

    “We didn’t have to invite third-party sellers into the store. We could have kept this valuable real estate for ourselves,” Bezos says in the statement. “But we committed to the idea that over the long term it would increase selection for customers, and that more satisfied customers would be great for both third-party sellers and for Amazon. And that’s what happened.”

    Expand
  3. 3. Apple

    Commentators in the United States view Apple’s anti-competition practices to be the least harmful of the four. Nonetheless, Apple has witnesses persistent questioning on its App Store policies.

    The Cupertino-based company extracts a 30 percent cut of revenue from apps selling digital goods, including from apps that it competes with directly.

    These include apps “like Spotify, which it challenges with Apple Music, or Basecamp’s Hey, which competes with Mail and iCloud,” writes Casey Newton for The Verge, adding “Apple’s response to this has been that these apps are doing fine, the app ecosystem is doing fine, and taking a 30 percent cut of everything is simply the industry standard.”

    Apple CEO’s opening statement defends the company’s policies asserting that it "does not have a dominant market share in any market where we do business.” The statement adds that “it’s not true just for the iPhones; it’s true for any product category.”

    "Apple's commissions are comparable to or lower than commissions charged by the majority of our competitors.”, Cook continued. "And they are vastly lower than the 50 to 70% that software developers paid to distribute their work before we launched the App Store.”

    He went on to assert that Apple has “never raised” the commissioned rates nor added a “single fee” for an additional category of apps.

    Expand
  4. 4. Facebook

    Zuckerberg, who is no stranger to Congressional grilling, can expect questions on Facebook’s abuse of its dominance in advertising. It has been accused of cutting off revenues for small news outlets, buying startups to snuff out competition.

    The company is under separate investigations by the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and Attorney Generals of states. Zuckerberg has previously flown to Washington DC to testify on privacy after the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 and then in 2019 on the Libra cryptocurrency.

    “The promise of this hearing for Facebook watchers is that it could unearth new documents pointing to how executives talked about these issues internally when it was making the decisions in question,” Newton writes.

    In his opening statement for Wednesday’s hearing, Zuckerberg said he’s looking to address these issues.

    “We recognize that we have a responsibility to stop bad actors from interfering with or undermining these conversations through misinformation, attempted voter suppression, or speech that is hateful or incites violence.” He added, “I understand the concerns people have in these areas, and we are working to address them.” 

    The remarks also say, "As Congress and other stakeholders consider how antitrust laws support competition in the U.S., I believe it’s important to maintain the core values of openness and fairness that have made America’s digital economy a force for empowerment and opportunity here and around the world.”

    Expand
  5. 5. Google

    The California-based giant faces longstanding questions around how it promotes its own products over those of its rivals in search results. Google has been accused of reducing organic traffic for many businesses and publications. For example, Google searches for videos ranked YouTube clips higher than rivals.

    Moreover, while users of the site have found value in how Google offers commoditised information on a range of widely searched queries on sports, weather, stock market, it has harmed competition.

    Other issues under investigation include Google making its search engine the default on Android devices.

    In December 2018, CEO Pichai was summoned to the US Capitol to testify on a broad range of issues, including algorithmic bias, privacy and data security. It turned out to be a largely tepid affair.

    The company has released an opening statement where Alphabet CEO Sundar addresses some for the concerns presented by the House Antitrust Subcommittee.

    “A competitive digital ad marketplace gives publishers and advertisers, and therefore consumers, an enormous amount of choice,” Pichai stated. “For example, competition in ads — from Twitter, Instagram, Comcast and others — has helped lower online advertising costs by 40% over the last 10 years, with these saving passed down to consumers through lower prices.”

    “Today’s competitive landscape looks nothing like it did 5 years ago, let alone 21 years ago, when Google launched its first product, Google Search. People have more ways to search for information than ever before.”

    Expand
  6. 6. What to Expect From the Hearing?

    While the appearance of the four CEOs together (albeit virtually) is sure to be a historic moment in Silicon Valley and US Congress’ history, technology watchers are skeptical of the effectiveness for a variety of reasons.

    Congress’ previous questioning of Zuckerberg and Pichai have exposed the limitations of its understanding of how technology companies operate. Previously, the testimonies have been high on theatrics and low on substance, allowing the CEOs to get away with non-committal responses.

    However, this hearing is based on an ongoing investigation that has been on since June 2019. There is hope that the CEOs will be asked more pressing questions on issues that go against the fabric of open web.

    Experts have also questioned the rationale behind summoning the four companies together. Many feel this may offer them an opportunity to dilute the depth and range of questioning.

    The hearing is scheduled to commence at 9:30pm IST on Wednesday.

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    Expand

Why is the Hearing Taking Place?

The hearing, titled 'Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 6: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple' is known as an evidentiary hearing.

This is because the CEOs will testify “as part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation of competition in the digital marketplace,” the House Judiciary Committee states.

Antitrust Subcommittee of US Congress has been gathering evidence for over 13-months on allegations of anti-competition practices and abuse of their dominant positions in digital marketplaces.

“Given the central role these corporations play in the lives of the American people, it is critical that their CEOs are forthcoming. As we have said from the start, their testimony is essential for us to complete this investigation.”
Joint statement by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline.

Amazon

The Seattle-based company has come under intense criticism for a host of anti-competitive practices.

Primary among them is how the company Amazon has used data of independent sellers on the company’s platform to develop its own competing products and give them better visibility and promotion.

The scale of this problem can be gauged by the fact that the European Union is preparing to bring strong antitrust charges against Amazon of edging our smaller rivals and stifling competition.

This will be Bezos’ first-ever testimony before US Congress. He has said little on this issue while the company’s stance has, so far, been that they haven’t indulged in such practices and that this goes against their stated business practices.

Amazon has prepared an opening statement for the hearing where company CEO Jezz will touch upon how “Every day, Amazon competes against large, established players like Target, Costco, Kroger, and, of course, Walmart — a company more than twice Amazon’s size.”

“We didn’t have to invite third-party sellers into the store. We could have kept this valuable real estate for ourselves,” Bezos says in the statement. “But we committed to the idea that over the long term it would increase selection for customers, and that more satisfied customers would be great for both third-party sellers and for Amazon. And that’s what happened.”

Apple

Commentators in the United States view Apple’s anti-competition practices to be the least harmful of the four. Nonetheless, Apple has witnesses persistent questioning on its App Store policies.

The Cupertino-based company extracts a 30 percent cut of revenue from apps selling digital goods, including from apps that it competes with directly.

These include apps “like Spotify, which it challenges with Apple Music, or Basecamp’s Hey, which competes with Mail and iCloud,” writes Casey Newton for The Verge, adding “Apple’s response to this has been that these apps are doing fine, the app ecosystem is doing fine, and taking a 30 percent cut of everything is simply the industry standard.”

Apple CEO’s opening statement defends the company’s policies asserting that it "does not have a dominant market share in any market where we do business.” The statement adds that “it’s not true just for the iPhones; it’s true for any product category.”

"Apple's commissions are comparable to or lower than commissions charged by the majority of our competitors.”, Cook continued. "And they are vastly lower than the 50 to 70% that software developers paid to distribute their work before we launched the App Store.”

He went on to assert that Apple has “never raised” the commissioned rates nor added a “single fee” for an additional category of apps.

Facebook

Zuckerberg, who is no stranger to Congressional grilling, can expect questions on Facebook’s abuse of its dominance in advertising. It has been accused of cutting off revenues for small news outlets, buying startups to snuff out competition.

The company is under separate investigations by the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and Attorney Generals of states. Zuckerberg has previously flown to Washington DC to testify on privacy after the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 and then in 2019 on the Libra cryptocurrency.

“The promise of this hearing for Facebook watchers is that it could unearth new documents pointing to how executives talked about these issues internally when it was making the decisions in question,” Newton writes.

In his opening statement for Wednesday’s hearing, Zuckerberg said he’s looking to address these issues.

“We recognize that we have a responsibility to stop bad actors from interfering with or undermining these conversations through misinformation, attempted voter suppression, or speech that is hateful or incites violence.” He added, “I understand the concerns people have in these areas, and we are working to address them.” 

The remarks also say, "As Congress and other stakeholders consider how antitrust laws support competition in the U.S., I believe it’s important to maintain the core values of openness and fairness that have made America’s digital economy a force for empowerment and opportunity here and around the world.”

Google

The California-based giant faces longstanding questions around how it promotes its own products over those of its rivals in search results. Google has been accused of reducing organic traffic for many businesses and publications. For example, Google searches for videos ranked YouTube clips higher than rivals.

Moreover, while users of the site have found value in how Google offers commoditised information on a range of widely searched queries on sports, weather, stock market, it has harmed competition.

Other issues under investigation include Google making its search engine the default on Android devices.

In December 2018, CEO Pichai was summoned to the US Capitol to testify on a broad range of issues, including algorithmic bias, privacy and data security. It turned out to be a largely tepid affair.

The company has released an opening statement where Alphabet CEO Sundar addresses some for the concerns presented by the House Antitrust Subcommittee.

“A competitive digital ad marketplace gives publishers and advertisers, and therefore consumers, an enormous amount of choice,” Pichai stated. “For example, competition in ads — from Twitter, Instagram, Comcast and others — has helped lower online advertising costs by 40% over the last 10 years, with these saving passed down to consumers through lower prices.”

“Today’s competitive landscape looks nothing like it did 5 years ago, let alone 21 years ago, when Google launched its first product, Google Search. People have more ways to search for information than ever before.”

What to Expect From the Hearing?

While the appearance of the four CEOs together (albeit virtually) is sure to be a historic moment in Silicon Valley and US Congress’ history, technology watchers are skeptical of the effectiveness for a variety of reasons.

Congress’ previous questioning of Zuckerberg and Pichai have exposed the limitations of its understanding of how technology companies operate. Previously, the testimonies have been high on theatrics and low on substance, allowing the CEOs to get away with non-committal responses.

However, this hearing is based on an ongoing investigation that has been on since June 2019. There is hope that the CEOs will be asked more pressing questions on issues that go against the fabric of open web.

Experts have also questioned the rationale behind summoning the four companies together. Many feel this may offer them an opportunity to dilute the depth and range of questioning.

The hearing is scheduled to commence at 9:30pm IST on Wednesday.

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Published: 28 Jul 2020, 02:38 PM IST
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