On Wednesday, U.S. lawmakers summoned the executives of Big Tech, the four most powerful players in the tech industry: Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, to the carpet. Even though each company is under antitrust scrutiny for different reasons, the committee used hearings this week to point out similarities between all four, justifying the need for future regulatory reform.
Since June of last year, lawmakers have been engaging in extensive antitrust investigations in the tech sector. During this time, hundreds of hours of testimony were listened to and 1.3 million documents were examined: correspondence of employees, testimonies of partners, complaints from competitors, and so on. The study reveals how well-known companies in the industry have grown too large and are now using their monopoly positions to discourage competition.
Congressmen posed clear and very uncomfortable questions to CEO Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, and Sundar Pichai of Google, with the latter having a hard time dodging. from the pressure of legalists.
In his opening remarks, Chairman of the House Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee, David Cicilline, said: “While these four corporations differ in important and meaningful ways, we have observed common patterns and competition problems throughout our lengthy investigation.” It’s about how each company controls distribution, suppresses competitors, and abuses its control over technology to leverage its power.
First of all, the committee investigated the practices of technology giants in the dissemination of information and products. Apple and Amazon have tremendous power over who can host apps and sell products. Congressman Val Butler Demings asked Apple CEO Tim Cook about the company’s app store rules, focusing on Apple’s decision to remove third-party parental control applications that use mobile device management (MDM) technology. Apple is offering to use its own parental control software instead. Well, in general, Apple charges a notorious commission from all application developers for its smartphones and tablets, while no alternative is provided: the software cannot be installed legally bypassing the App Store.
Google was attacked by David Sicillin for keeping an eye on search competitors. He cited emails received during an investigation between Google employees concerned about how rival companies are becoming more dominant. In particular, Google allegedly threatened Yelp to exclude reviews from search results if they are not embedded in its own products. Google has also been accused of creating a censored search engine for China, although many employees were against it. At the same time, because of staff protests, the search giant refused to work with the Pentagon. Also, the congressmen recalled that when purchasing the DoubleClick advertising service in 2007, the company promised not to combine its data with its own, but did not adhere to this. And in general, Google too actively uses people’s personal data for its own purposes.
The other three companies are also using methods of tracking competitors. For example, Facebook allegedly tracked other growing tech companies in an attempt to copy or eventually absorb them, as was the case with Instagram. Moreover, it was stated that the founders of Instagram were forced to sell their brainchild, fearing the destruction of the business by Facebook, which was actively copying functions.
By gaining dominance in their respective markets, companies make it difficult for competitors and their products to enter them. Amazon has become a key example of this committee behavior. Lucy McBath pointed to Amazon’s ability to systematically block sellers from selling products in certain categories (in order to sell those same items themselves), citing an interview with a seller who believed she was not allowed to sell books of certain genres. “I don’t think it happens systematically– just answered Bezos. – Third party sellers collectively work very well for Amazon“. Amazon has also been caught in collaboration with Asian factories over-exploiting people.
During the meeting, accusations were made of censoring materials, putting pressure on conservatives, and spreading disinformation during the 2016 elections. The full recording of the broadcast can be viewed on YouTube:
The committee plans to release a report late summer outlining its findings. As a result of the investigation, it is proposed to develop new legislation aimed at regulating Big Tech. Facebook and Google are already under antitrust scrutiny by law enforcement. Agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice are the only bodies empowered to punish technology companies for non-competitive behavior.
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