Tuesday, August 4, 2020

We do it for America. The most powerful CEOs defended their monopoly sins before Congress

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Bezos had a snack, Zuckerberg sweated while confronted with internal e-mails. This is what Wednesday’s hearing of CEOs of Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google’s parent company before Congress looked like in a nutshell. The heads of the largest technology companies were supposed to confess to him about their monopolistic sins.

Unlike previous similar hearings experienced by the four, this time the allegations covered a wide range of missteps. The largest online store is said to be abusing sellers’ internal data to succeed with its own products, while Apple’s App Store sets strict rules for all mobile applications and forces software makers to use a payment gateway that they own. Facebook allegedly systematically buys most of the ambitious startups, thus ensuring zero competition.

Doubts are also raised by the political level of the social network algorithm, which favors large players and inadvertently silences the voices of small media and companies. For a change, Google’s competitors don’t like the way it prioritizes services that it owns, as usual, by itself. Similar practices have been blamed on him in the past by the European Commission.

But there were no specific legal overtones here. The hearing was more the result of long-standing concerns about the power of the giants, affecting not only the market but also our privacy and the global political debate. In addition, with the global lockdown, digital platforms have definitely sealed their impact on almost all areas of our everyday life.

The long-awaited session, however, went without much drama. The richest man on the planet didn’t even get the word out for the first two hours, but after heavy snacks and stingy inquiries from lawmakers, he acknowledged that although politics within Amazon forbade the use of brokered data to support one’s own business, “he can’t guarantee it never happened.”


Mark Zuckerberg was to explain internal e-mails from 2012 (before the company bought Instagram), in which sentences like “Instagram could interfere with Facebook in the future” fell, and referred to the blessing of the instagram acquisition from the Federal Trade Commission – authority supervising cases of unfair competition.

Zuckerberg’s statement, like the whole hearing, was formal; the context of how powerful the four giants, with a combined value of about $ 5 trillion, has entered the background. A common argument from everyone present was the added value that businesses bring to America and Americans.

“Apple is an exclusively American company whose success is only possible in this country,” said Tim Cook, in addition to the number of jobs Apple has created for the Americans. Facebook’s CEO, in turn, relied on efforts to overcome Chinese dominance in technology, Bezos emphasized the needs of American customers.

In the end, all the gentlemen present left with a clear shield, and there was no heated debate among the opposition politicians either. However, we will know whether the giants managed to defend their competition tactics. The overall impact of the session will depend on the concrete steps that Congress takes based on what it learned yesterday.

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