Four of America’s richest and most powerful tech CEOs took harsh questions about alleged predatory business practices, theft of digital content and aggressive copying and purchasing of competing businesses.
The hearing, which ran five and a half hours, on July 29, involved Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai. The four CEOs had to defend their companies’ practices before United States lawmakers.
The executives provided data to show how competitive their markets are, and the value of their innovation and essential services to consumers. They were grilled with questions concerns about alleged political bias, their effect on US democracy and their role in China.
Among the most uncomfortable questions for Google and Amazon involved accusations that they used their platforms to fetch data about competitors in a way that gave them an unfair advantage.
Bezos said that he couldn’t guarantee that the company had not accessed seller data to make competing products, an allegation that his company and executives have earlier denied.
“We have a policy against using seller specific data to aid our private label business,” Bezos responded to a question from US Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat. “But I can’t guarantee to you that that policy hasn’t been violated.”
Sundar Pichai of Google however, struggled as the Congressman Cicilline blamed the company for leveraging its dominant search engine to steal ideas and information from other websites and manipulating its results to drive people to its own digital services to increase its profits.
Pichai repeatedly said that Google tries to provide the most helpful information to people who use its search engine in an effort to keep them coming back instead of defecting to a rival service.
Several Republicans also claimed that the tech companies are censoring conservative voices and questioned their business activities in China. “Big Tech is out to get conservatives,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.
In a tweet before the hearing, President Donald Trump challenged Congress to crack down on the companies, which he has accused, without evidence, of bias against him and conservatives in general.
“If Congress doesn’t bring fairness to Big Tech, which they should have done years ago, I will do it myself with Executive Orders,” Trump tweeted.
Trump’s Justice Department has urged Congress to withdraw long-held legal protections for online platforms including Facebook, Google and Twitter. The changes would strip some of the protections that have generally aided the companies from legal responsibility.
Critics have questioned whether the tech giants stifle competition and innovation, increase prices for consumers and pose a danger to society.
Cicilline also said that in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, “these giants stand to profit” and become even more powerful as millions shift more of their work and commerce online.
The companies face legal and political allegations on multiplying fronts, from Congress, the Trump administration, federal and state regulators and European watchdogs.