Four of big tech’s CEOs are appearing before the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust sub-panel

30 Jul, 2020 10:02
source: Singularity Financial

Singularity Financial Hong Kong July 30, 2020 – Wall Street Shrugged as the Big Tech CEOs Faced Congress. Here’s Why. (Source: Barron’s By Eric J. Savitz)

Four of Big Tech’s CEOs are appearing on Wednesday before the Democratic-run House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust sub-panel, with lawmakers grilling the executives over the massive power of their companies.

The Capitol Hill hearing, which began just after 1 p.m. Eastern Time, is featuring remote testimony from Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos, Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook, Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, who is the chief executive for Google and its parent company, Alphabet Inc.

The CEOs faced more than five hours of aggressive questioning from members of the House Judiciary Committee antitrust subcommittee. All four CEOs participated virtually, using Cisco’s Webex software. Bezos at one point had to be reminded to unmute himself.

Questions covered many topics, including accusations of unfair competition against smaller rivals, accusations of bias against some news sources, and how companies use consumer data.

The hearing’s biggest weakness was its ambition—the scope of the questions was too broad, leaving little opportunity for in-depth examination of the many issues raised. And the structure of the hearing—with each questioner getting five minutes at a time—led to considerable grandstanding by House members and pressure on the CEOs for rushed answers. All four executives were repeatedly asked for yes-or-no answers, and all four repeatedly resisted, only to have their answers cut short as the 5-minute question window ran out.

Each CEO had uncomfortable moments. Both Pichai and Zuckerberg asked to make corrections to their testimony. Asked about narrow examples of alleged harm to smaller competitors, all four admitted a lack of details at various points and promised to follow up with the lawmakers.

Bezos struggled with how to answer questions about whether the site ever sells stolen or fake merchandise. Pichai struggled awkwardly with a question about whether Google would promise not to help Joe Biden with the fall presidential election, before finally finding a way to say the service would remain nonpartisan. Pichai also faced some tough questions on his company’s relationship with China—and for backing away from some work for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Apple’s Cook got off easiest, with fewer questions, most of them focused around how the company prices and manages the iPhone App Store. For Bezos—who suffered technical issues for the first 90 minutes or so that prevented him from responding to the panelists—questions were focused on whether the company improperly uses information from its third-party sellers to price and create competitive products.