Big Tech CEOs Will Be On Capital Hill To Answer Questions From Congress

Matty-Sways

Bezos, Cook, Zuckerberg, and Sundar Pichai face questions from Congress who fear their excessive power and money.

The four big tech leaders will face questions from members of the House Antitrust Subcommittee (made of Congress members). Their testimony could lead to public pressure to remove some of the companies' control over the industry and people's information. As of Monday, the four companies and Microsoft Corp. represented the five most valuable U.S. companies.

The CEOs’ preparations have included speaking with lawmakers, which is normal for high-profile hearings.

“These platforms have been allowed to run wild and free from really any constraints,” Rep. David Cicilline (D., R.I.), the subcommittee chairman, said in an interview. “The responsibility we have is to make clear what the impacts are of the lack of competition in the digital marketplace.”

In statements released late Tuesday, Mr. Bezos, Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Pichai emphasized their contributions to the U.S. economy and hinted that there is greated competition between the tech companies.

“Although people around the world use our products, Facebook is a proudly American company,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “We believe in values—democracy, competition, inclusion and free expression—that the American economy was built on.”

Columbia University law professor Timothy Wu, who has called for breaking up Facebook, urged the lawmakers last summer to subpoena Mr. Zuckerberg’s emails discussing the 2012 acquisition of Instagram. It could be something discussed today as a request for those exact documents was sent to the company months later.

Mr. Cook is set to tell lawmakers Apple is “a uniquely American company” that “does not have a dominant market share in any market where we do business.” He plans to distinguish Apple by emphasizing that its business model is less reliant on consumers’ personal data.

The Justice Department is probing Apple’s App Store practices to see if it's true what rivals say about the company acting anticompetitively in the store, extracting unfair payments and favoring its own products. Last week, Apple promoted a study concluding the fees app developers pay are in line with those charged elsewhere.

In dealing with rival companies, some tech giants often act in a predatory fashion, said Rep. Ken Buck (R., Colo.). “They are doing it in a way that’s designed to reduce competition,” Mr. Buck said in an interview. “As it appears to me now, there’s a need for action and for updating the law.”

Instead of a crowded hearing room, the CEOs will testify from a place of their choosing. This hearing comes with some of the companies under scrutiny by at least one if not more of the Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general offices. The subcommittee has its own yearlong probe and lawmakers have more than one million documents gathered from the companies and their competitors, including the executives’ own emails.

All that could make the questioning feel more like an interrogation. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.), who sits on the panel.

Facebook faces several antitrust probes regarding it's part in acquisition of potential competitors and the FTC is laying the groundwork for depositions of company executives. Mr. Zuckerberg views the hearing as a high stakes appearance for himself and for Facebook. He has been preparing with confidants and congressional experts. He is particularly conerned regarding questions about the potential divestiture of prime assets Instagram and WhatsApp, and about the perception that Facebook lacks the ability to govern its sizable platforms.

Matt Perault, a Duke University professor who testified before the subcommittee last year while working at Facebook, recalled preparing with hours of talking-point briefings and mock interrogations. He remembered receiving this advice: “It’s basically impossible to win. You’re trying not to lose.”

Amazon’s retail opponents have been lobbying lawmakers to ask Mr. Bezos about counterfeit products, competition with third-party sellers on the Amazon marketplace, and other issues. Although initially Amazon was not going to allow Mr. Bezos to testify before Congress, the company relented, Wall Street Journal report in April that Amazon employees used data from the platform’s sellers to develop competing products.

The FTC and some U.S. states have held meeting regarding the size and market control of Amazon, but neither the company nor the regulators have disclosed a formal investigation. At a January congressional hearing with smaller companies, the founder of mobile-phone accessory maker PopSockets LLC said he had evidence of Amazon bullying third-party sellers.

The antitrust probes into Google are the most advanced, with the Justice Department expected to file suit this summer.

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