Big tech CEOs grilled by House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel

Congressional lawmakers spent Wednesday afternoon grilling big tech CEOs over allegations concerning monopolistic practices meant to stifle competition. The House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust questioned Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos; Apple CEO, Tim Cook, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg; and Alphabet CEO, Sundar Pichai.

Though the panel spent five hours questioning the CEOs, few revelations came to light during the testimony. The CEOs provided data concerning competing companies while also explaining how valuable their services have become to consumers. They did, however, struggle to answer more pointed questions regarding business practices.

In his first-ever appearance before Congress, Bezos acknowledged reports Amazon leveraged independent Amazon sellers’ data to compete against them. Bezos told committee members this would be “unacceptable” if it proved to be true.

“We have a policy against using seller-specific data to aid our private-label business,” Bezos said. “But I can’t guarantee to you that that policy hasn’t been violated.”

Pichai, meanwhile, struggled as subcommittee chairman David Cicilline accused Alphabet of using its dominant search engine to manipulate search results and drive consumers to its services. Pichai deflected Cicilline’s attacks, telling the committee Google aims to provide the most relevant and helpful information to its users to keep them from using a competing search engine.

The committee questioned Zuckerberg about Facebook’s 2012 purchase of Instagram and whether or not they acquired the social media company because it was a threat, which Zuckerberg called it in an email obtained by the committee. The Facebook CEO was also asked if Facebook has ever copied its competitors.

“We’ve certainly adapted features that others have led in,” he answered.

When explicitly asked how many companies Facebook has copied, Zuckerberg responded with an underwhelming “I don’t know.”

In the last hour of the hearing, Apple CEO Tim Cook faced questions about why Apple removed parental-control apps after introducing its competing tool in 2018. Apple pulled the apps due to privacy concerns, not competition, Cook told the committee.

Cook also faced accusations that Apple enforces its rules on some app developers but not others. Cook denied this practice in his opening statement when he said the rules are “applied equally to every developer.”

During the hearing, Cicilline said each platform controlled by the four tech companies “is a bottleneck for a key channel of distribution.”

“Whether they control access to information or to a marketplace, these platforms have the incentive and ability to exploit this power,” he said. “They can charge exorbitant fees, impose oppressive contracts, and extract valuable data from the people and businesses that rely on them.”

“Simply put: They have too much power,” Cicilline added.

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel is expected to provide its antitrust report by summer’s end or early fall.