25.02.2024

Bezos, Zuckerberg, Cook and Pichai grilled by congress as Facebook CEO defends Twitter over Trump Jr ban

The four biggest Silicon Valley tech CEOs were grilled by Congress for more than five hours as both Democrats and Republicans accused them of using their monopolies to crush market competitors and censor ideological opponents.

Google’s Sundai Pichai, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Time Cook and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos faced both pointed accusations and at times confused questioning from Representatives wading into thickets of privacy policies, advertising platforms and data algorithms.

Zuckerberg at one point found himself in the unlikely position of defending Twitter’s decision to suspend Donald Trump’s Jr’s account after his company was confused for that of Jack Dorsey, who was not in attendance.

Bezos, meanwhile, was unable to deny an assertion that Amazon uses third-party seller data to advantage itself, a potential antitrust concern for the e-commerce company, but committed to sharing results of its internal investigation.

Cook defended Apple for removing competitors from the App Store even as customers were directed to Apple’s own products as a replacement.

Pichai faced some of the toughest questions over Google’s advertising practices, with the company accused of using «privacy» as a shield to withhold user data from competitors that it used itself to claim an advantage.

While Representatives across both political spectrums shared in their level of concerns at the size of the tech companies, Democrats tended to focus on anticompetitive conduct while Republicans leaned toward political censorship.

Zuckerberg was accused of lying to Congress after claiming he wasn’t aware of anyone being fired for their political beliefs, while Pichai dodged questions about a 2016 video showing anti-Trump bias among senior leadership.

All of the CEO’s, however, agreed that the emergence of cancel culture was a threat to democracy as the nuance destruction machine of social media empowered mobs in the «digital Thunderdome».

Welcome to The Independent‘s live coverage of Big Tech’s appearance before Congress later today.

The leaders of the world’s biggest tech companies – Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google – will all be questioned by US politicians eager to delve into the ways that the size and power of the companies could be being unfairly wielded, among other issues.
Tim Cook’s full opening statement – which he will give when he appears later on – can be read here. He focuses mostly on the App Store (which is probably what the questioners will focus on with regards to him, too).

His argument is along the lines the other three are expected to take, too: that his company isn’t actually all that big, is not dominant in every market, and that limiting it through regulation could mean it losing out to non-US companies.

He takes a similar tone to Tim Cook, and provides some similar arguments. But he leans a little more into the fact that Facebook’s continuing success is not guaranteed. (He only mentions China in passing, but does stress the fact that Facebook is American, and the remarks are thought to relate to that.)

«I’ve long believed that the nature of our industry is that someday a product will replace Facebook,» he concludes. «I want us to be the ones that build it, because if we don’t, someone else will.»

Here’s Google’s Sundar Pichai. He doesn’t spend quite so much time arguing that Google is not big, or that being big isn’t such a bad thing – instead, his main argument is that Google is an American success story, and thereby implying that any regulation could undo that American success.

«We are commied to panering with lawmakers, including the members of this Commiee, to protect consumers, maintain America’s competitive technological edge in the world, and ensure that every American has access to the incredible oppounities that technology creates,» he concludes.

He leans most keenly – or at least most poetically – into the patriotic, American line: in his concluding paragraphs, he says that «the rest of the world would love even the tiniest sip of the elixir we have here in the US». Much of that argument is made with reference to his own biography, talking about his mother’s experience of having him young, and his dad’s experience of moving to the US from Cuba.

Otherwise, his argument is much the same: actually, there’s a lot more competition, and actually, people like using Amazon. But he also leans heavily into claims about the number of jobs being created by the company.

Here’s the Associated Press’s look ahead to what is likely to happen today, and the questions the CEOs are expected to face:

Four Big Tech CEOs — Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Sundar Pichai of Google and Tim Cook of Apple — are set to answer for their companies’ practices before Congress as a House panel caps its yearlong investigation of market dominance in the industry.

The four command corporations with gold-plated brands, millions or even billions of customers, and a combined value greater than the entire German economy. One of them is the world’s richest individual (Bezos); another is the fourth-ranked billionaire (Zuckerberg). Their industry has transformed society, linked people around the globe, mined and commercialized users’ personal data, and infuriated critics on both the left and right over speech.

Critics question whether the companies, grown increasingly powerful after gobbling up scores of rivals, stifle competition and innovation, raise prices for consumers and pose a danger to society.

The four CEOs are testifying remotely for a hearing Wednesday by the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust.

In its bipartisan investigation, the panel collected testimony from mid-level executives of the four firms, competitors and legal experts, and pored over more than a million internal documents from the companies. A key question: whether existing competition policies and century-old antitrust laws are adequate for overseeing the tech giants, or if new legislation and enforcement funding is needed.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, has called the four companies monopolies, although he says breaking them up should be a last resort. While forced breakups may appear unlikely, the wide scrutiny of Big Tech points toward possible new restrictions on its power.

The companies face legal and political offensives on multiplying fronts, from Congress, the Trump administration, federal and state regulators and European watchdogs. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission have been investigating the four companies’ practices.

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