The four CEOs of the biggest tech companies testified before Congress via teleconference, only to find politicians more interested in performance, than asking real questions.
It was a wasted opportunity to see the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook before the House Antitrust Subcommittee asked about deals they made in 2012, (old news, come on), emails discussing business strategy (also ancient) and why some Congressman couldn’t find a right-wing publication in the Google search index.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Apple’s Tim Cook could have been asked some real, pointed questions with relevance about today or antitrust concerns.
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Instead, some members of Congress shot irrelevant questions.
How irrelevant? How about Cook being asked by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to defend Apple’s TV ad from 1984, ahem, a 36-year-old commercial. Or the CEOs being asked to vouch for the character of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
There was the congressman who encouraged the CEOs to agree with them not to employ slave labor. “We abhor it and wouldn’t stand for it,” said Cook, unexpectedly, which was agreed upon by the others.
Here are ten questions that should have been asked.
Let’s start with one very basic one for the quartet:
“Sirs, could each of you please explain why consumers wouldn’t benefit if we were to vote to break up Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon?”
The e-commerce giant, whose popularity and efficiency (products delivered overnight or even same day) has contributed to the decimation of Main Street, has come under fire recently for its treatment of employees during the pandemic. When workers spoke out about it, the company reportedly retaliated by firing them.
“Mr. Bezos, Amazon has been accused of not taking proper care of warehouse workers during the COVID crisis. What’s your response to the multiple reports and protests?”
Amazon does indeed sell products for millions of sellers, but it offers prominent positions for products made by Amazon, like the Echo speaker, Fire TV streaming stick and Ring doorbell. In addition, it sells lower-priced Amazon branded essentials like batteries and polo shirts. Amazon-branded products were aggressively promoted to customers looking at third-party products.
“How is this a fair, level playing field for sellers?”
Google makes most of its revenues from advertising, using its sophisticated tracking mechanisms to follow our every move on Gmail, Google Maps, Google Search and elsewhere to learn as much as possible about us in order to tailor ads based on interests.
“Mr. Pichai, you say users have the choice of `opting in,’ for these suggestions, but in truth, many Google services aren’t available to consumers unless they agree to have Google follow them. Please explain here why that’s OK?”
When utilize the search engine about 41% of the first page of Google search results is taken up by Google products, according to an analysis by The Markup that Google disputes.
“Secondly, Google controls what people can see in their search results, and on any given day, it’s a hidden secret why Google shows me certain results over others, and decides what I should see. Could you please explain how your algorithm really works, and how consumers could have more of a voice in what they see in their results?”
The social network is just as notorious as Google in following our every move, to the point where many people are convinced that Facebook is recording their phone conversations.
“Mr. Zuckerberg, what do you say to the consumers who think you record their phone calls? Many think it’s creepy to have Facebook knowing so much about them. How do you justify it? “
Facebook owns three of the top 10 most used apps, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, which all use the same Facebook algorithm that tracks consumer behavior, and happened because Facebook wanted them neutralized.
“AT&T once upon a time was the only game in town for communication, before we broke up the Bell system and today, we have the amazing cellphone. Look what happens to innovation with competition. I believe consumers would be better served with an independent Instagram and WhatsApp. Persuade us otherwise.”
Cook talked many times at the hearings about how Apple started with 500 apps in the App Store and now has over 1.7 million. Which begs the question:
“Why should Apple get to have 60 of its own branded apps to compete with independent app makers in the store? Clearly, apps like iMessage, FaceTime and iMovie get preferential treatment over others. How is that fair play?”
“What about when Apple sees a popular product, and decides to copy it, and sell it on its own, thus putting its business in peril? Flipboard was a popular news aggregator app, so Apple followed with Apple News, which has prime position on the iPhone. The Bluetooth tracker Tile filed an anti-trust suit against Apple for doing the to the company. Mr. Cook, what do you say?”
“Mr. Cook, there have been reports about very poor working conditions in your Chinese factories where you make iPhones, to the point where people have committed suicide from the stress. Why can’t you make the phones here, and what can do you to treat the workers with more dignity?”
Finally, a bonus question:
Each executive talked about their reverence for the late John Lewis, and were asked if they supported a diverse leadership, “Could you please explain why there are no people of color in the senior leadership displayed on the websites of Amazon, Apple, Google or Facebook beyond the diversity officer title? At what point do you stop talking the talk, and actually hire a diverse senior staff?”
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter