- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook testified before Congress how they use their market power to destroy competitors.
- Unlike other tech auditions, this one had great exclusivity, and politicians proved ready.
- The technical titans didn’t seem ready for that at all and admitted to doing a lot of offensive things.
- This is the opinion section. The thoughts expressed are by the same authors.
- To learn more stories, visit the Business Insider homepage.
From the time Amazon’s founder and CEO changed from another Silicon Valley leader to the richest man in the world, we rarely saw him excited. This is the man who dared to overwhelm the tabloids. This is a man who employs a personal detective named Gavin de Becker.
But on Wednesday we saw his alarmed face.
We saw this when Bezos gave testimony to a subcommittee of the Home Courts Committee ̵1; a committee within the committee – that focused on antitrust enforcement. He – along with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook – were invited to answer questions about their power. These are the men who control how things are accessed online – your apps, your posts, ads, news, answers to questions, and just about anything you can buy.
Last year, the subcommittee investigated whether such dominance in distribution had led to the creation of a small business in America for decades – whether Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon were using their strength to destroy future competitors.
Given the historical nature and intense media attention to the meeting, the main mission of the legislators was to set out their findings about the immense power these companies have in a way that Americans can understand.
And Bezos showed us his worried face, because – with the exception of a few Histrionians – the members of the committee did just that.
“[The committee] have shown that these companies are gatekeepers, that they engage in anti-competitive practices and that their dominance lies in the power of monopoly, not innovation, ”said Matt Stoller, an antitrust researcher and Goliath: A Hundred Years’ War between Monopoly Power and Democracy. author.
For the first time, men like Bezos, the “rulers of the universe,” according to Stoller, had to answer questions from informed, powerful people. And under pressure, they confessed to the toxic behavior that critics have been blaming for for many years.
When you control the roads
For many of the times Silicon Valley went to Washington, our politicians were ashamed. Geriatric senators ask key questions about technology, and executives in a hot spot rely on them using the best media and answering paternalistic questions.
There was a lot of that at Wednesday’s meeting, mostly from rating member F. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin. There were also some great opinions about the Conservatives being muted on Facebook (none) and Google (still not). But it was a minority minority.
Most often, members of both parties asked thoughtful, well-researched questions. And it seems the CEOs weren’t ready for that. As Stoller pointed out, they had to recognize a number of shadow business tactics.
- Members of both parties joked on Facebook about its strategy of buying, copying, or threatening competitors from the business by reading damn internal emails. Letters from Instagram purchased by the company.
- When Bezos was asked why Amazon makes money from counterfeit goods, he also couldn’t answer questions about Amazon’s protocol to ensure it doesn’t sell stolen goods.
- Bezos clarified through spokesman Pramila Jayapal’s questions about how Amazon is using data from third-party vendors to create internal brands that compete with merchants trading on its platform, saying only, “I can’t answer that question yes or no.”
- Subcommittee chairman David Cicilin pointed out that outside of Amazon, these third-party vendors are called “partners.” Within Amazon, they are called “internal competitors.”
- Similarly, Zuckerberg is sweating over his competitors ’spy history issues.
- Zuckerberg could not explain the fact that his company profits from misinformation. Cicillin raised the issue that, despite a commitment to disseminate only accurate information about the coronavirus, Facebook took five hours and 20 million views before it removed a video full of false claims about the pandemic. Emphasizing this misinformation when the platform appeared, Cicilina said it was a “business solution.”
- Democrat Congressman Joe Neguse of Colorado has pressed Apple and Google executives, who both control app stores, to promise not to use the information they collect from apps in their stores to create competitors.
- Florida’s Democratic Val Demmings has pressured Pichai about how Google tracks its customers by collecting data from all of its products (Gmail, maps, etc.) in order to sell ads targeted to them.
CEOs were trained in the media. They knew they were trying to provide long answers to run out of time. They knew how to avoid it. And they knew how to answer. Bezos uttered the words “I don’t understand” at one time and I couldn’t help but find irony in him. Antitrust is complex. The way these companies build ditches around them is so great and sometimes ruthless that it’s hard to believe Bezos could have gotten lost after anything. However, at this hearing, all four CEOs seemed confused.
Probably the most serious moment of hearing was when Democrat Lucy McBath from Georgia played a small textbook seller who was smashed by Amazon when their business became big enough to compete with Bezos.
“We were never given a reason. Amazon never even told us why we were restricted. There was no warning, no plan.” And when faced with the record, Bezos had no explanatory words.
Why are we here?
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “But if we don’t have these big companies at Linette, how will we compete with big companies from China and elsewhere?”
And I tell you, we can’t compete with anyone unless we compete against ourselves, here in the US. What these companies do when they crush competitors – beat them, copy them or bury their technology after the acquisition – takes root in these companies. And the more entrenched they are, the less innovative they need to be.
Perhaps, for example, if there were a Facebook competitor with a news stream that did not spread lies and resentment, we might choose to contact that competitor, but we couldn’t buy Instagram and WhatsApp on Facebook. Zuckerberg called it a “digital loot of land.”
The U.S. economy is not designed to make land attractive to the rich and powerful. It is intended to create a level playing field where people with talent and dedication can innovate their way to success. It is even more critical that our country is struggling with as much power as these companies can have. When antitrust laws were drafted in the 1890s and revised again in the 1930s, our leaders realized that companies that had become huge could take over politics and rule this nation.
“We must not tolerate oppressive government or industrial oligarchy in forming monopolies and cartels.” Henry Wallace, vice president of Franklin Delan Roosevelt, wrote about the dangers of fascism in the essay.
“As long as research and ingenuity outweigh our ability to create social mechanisms to improve people’s living standards, we can expect the US liberal potential to increase. If this liberal potential is used properly, we can expect the US space to expand.”
There is an understanding in this country that freedom is diminishing, that power is in the hands of a few people and that their voices are more important than many. Even Congressman Sensenbrenner, a rating member who seemed confused by much of the hearing, called on the government to reconsider the mergers that made these companies dominant. He said everyone is making mistakes, and most likely the regulators have made them. Expect the report published by this subcommittee to contain fraudulent e-mails. Letters and other information about how these powerful people accumulated power and used it to make it virtually impossible for anyone else to compete.
It’s time for American people to understand why their feeling that something is very wrong is valid, and where it comes from so we can change that.