US Cong Picks on Pichai; Corners Bezos, Zuckerberg in 5Hr Grilling

Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai faced the most number of questions from US Congress on ‘abuse of monopoly.’

Updated
Tech and Auto
4 min read

United States Congress grilled the CEOs of four tech giants – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – on a wide range of allegations regarding their “abuse of monopoly power” and anti-competition practices.

In a hearing that lasted over 5.5 hours, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg & Google’s Sundar Pichai, who run companies worth a combined $5 trillion, weathered questions on killing competition, misusing their dominant positions, bullying rivals, to “helping China”, censoring right-wing voices and helping Joe Biden.

Google’s Sundar Pichai’s fielded the most questions among the CEOs, especially from conservative Republicans, while Apple’s Tim Cook had it the easiest in what was a relentless fiery line of questioning.

Among the major highlights was Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who made his debut before Congress, acknowledging that the company does promote its products over third-party sellers on its platform.

In what has emerged as the most notable Congressional hearings in Silicon Valley’s history, the 15-member bipartisan House Judiciary Committee put up a spirited show but often veered off into a Democrat versus Republican arguments.

Representative David Cicilline, who is heading a Congressional sub-committee formed to investigate the abuse of dominant positions by the company begun by reading out an initial statement, stating “simply put, they have too much power.”

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.

What the Numbers Say

While publications and commentators may be divided on their calculations of total questions asked, they agreed on the fact the Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai were neck-and-neck.

In fact, The New York Times placed Zuckerberg at first place, edging out Pichai by one question. Here’s a tally:

Total questions asked: 217

  1. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook: 62
  2. Sundar Pichai, Google: 61
  3. Jeff Bezos, Amazon: 59
  4. Tim Cook, Apple: 35

Yelp Vice President Luther Lowe, who maintained his own tally on Twitter reported 205 questions but agreed with The New York Times on the outcome with Zuckerberg (60 questions) and Pichai (58).

Conservatives Pick on Sundar Pichai

While Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg were neck-and-neck , it was clear that the Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee had singled out Pichai for their attacks.

Luther Lowe’s tally also provided a breakup of the questioned asked by Democrats and Republicans. Pichai led by a mile when it came to fielding questions from the conservative side of the aisle on Google shunning US military but helping China, censoring far-right outlets like Gateway Pundit and helping Democratic candidate Joe Biden in his bid for presidency.

Pichai faced 29 questions from Republican Congressmen, far ahead of Zuckerberg at 15, Bezos at 13 and Cook at 4, according to Lowe.

It is also no surprise, then, that Pichai also spent most time, right from his opening remarks, in harping on how Google is good for America. “There’s nothing in the algorithm which has anything to do with political ideology,” Pichai iterated on multiple occasions.

Democrats Vs Republicans & Eye on Elections

For most part of the marathon grilling session, the Democrats with nine members and Republicans with six, pursued distinct lines of interrogation of the Big Tech CEOs.

While Democrats wasted little time in digging into questions of anti-competitive behaviour and abuse of power, Republicans appeared to use the topic to ask questions about China, unproven claims of silencing right-wing voices and going against American national interests.

Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the panel opened the proceeding by asserting “I’ll just cut to the chase, Big Tech’s out to get conservatives.” He was later involved in a heated pow-wow with Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon, who accused him and other Republicans of “fringe conspiracy theories.”

Jeff Bezos Acknowledges Amazon Undercuts Sellers

In what emerged among the highlights and a breakthrough for the ‘Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law’, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos acknowledged that Amazon does use its platform to promote its own products over rivals.

“I’m sure there are cases where we do promote our own products,” Bezos responded after Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) cited an example of Amazon Echo speakers prompting users to buy Amazon’s batteries when they might be shopping for other brands.

Unlike other CEOs, Jeff Bezos had avoided being summoned by Congress thus far and appeared to fumble on the first few questions put to him in his first public testimony.

Having escaped questioning for nearly the first two hours, he replied “I can’t guarantee you that policy has never been violated,” when pressed upon by Democrat Pramila Jayapal whether Amazon ever used third-party seller data to create and promote its own products.

Zuckerberg Cornered on Instagram Acquisition

Another significant highlight was Mark Zuckerberg being cornered on the issue of Facebook killing competition by bullying rivals and threatening them with clones.

Citing Instagram’s example multiple times, Zuckerberg received fierce questioning about the company’s 2012 purchase of the photo-sharing platform which New York Democrat Jerry Nadler said was “exactly the type of acquisition that antitrust laws were designed to prevent.”

Several Congress members doubled down on Facebook’s attitude towards competitors and even accused Zuckerberg of “digital land grab.”

India-born Pramila Jayapal Impresses With Tough Questions

Among the handful of Congress members who stood out for their informed, fierce and unwavering line of questions was Democrat from Washington state Pramila Jayapal.

Representative Jayapal, who was born in Chennai and moved to the United States by herself at the age of 16 to attend college at Georgetown University, took on Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg with precision.

Jayapal unearthed emails in which Zuckerberg told the founder of Instagram, during negotiations to acquire app in 2012, that he was building a copycat camera service.

"Facebook's very model makes it hard for new companies to flourish," she said as Zuckerberg dodged answering it directly.

Jayapal, who represents Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered, also took on Jeff Bezos regarding its abuse of third-party data, an allegation that the CEO did not deny outrightly.

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