Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks via video conference at a US congressional hearing. Image by REUTERS PHOTO

Technology

Big tech chiefs absorb US lawmakers’ jabs

2020-07-31 08:14:55

Google and Facebook haven taken the sharpest jabs for alleged abuse of their market power at a US congressional hearing with four of America’s most prominent tech CEOs in the hot seat.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Alphabet-owned Google’s Sundar Pichai and Apple’s Tim Cook parried accusations from lawmakers via video conference before the House Judiciary Committee’s anti-trust panel on Wednesday.

The companies have a combined market value of about $US5 trillion ($A7 trillion).

Bezos appeared the least fazed by his grilling while Zuckerberg took the most damage, stumbling a few times when confronted with internal emails.

US Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat and chair of the anti-trust subcommittee, began by accusing Google of theft.

“Why does Google steal content from honest businesses?” he asked.

Cicilline alleged Google stole reviews from the company Yelp Inc and said Google threatened to delist the company from search results if it objected.

Pichai responded mildly that he would want to know the specifics of the accusation.

“We conduct ourselves to the highest standards,” he added, disagreeing that Google steals content from other businesses to keep users on its own services.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg took a series of questions about the company’s purchase of Instagram in 2012, and whether it was acquired because it was a threat.

He said the deal had been reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission and that Instagram at the time was a tiny photo-sharing app rather than a social-media phenomenon.

“People didn’t think of them competing with us in that space,” he said.

Representative Pramila Jayapal pressed Amazon’s Bezos on whether the company used data from third-party sellers in making sales decisions.

Bezos answered cautiously that the company had a policy against such actions.

“If we found that somebody violated it, we would take action against them,” he said.

On the Republican side, Representative Jim Jordan accused the companies of taking a long list of actions that he said showed they try to hamper conservatives from reaching their supporters.

“Big Tech is out to get conservatives,” he said. The companies have denied allegations of political censorship.

Jordan’s allegations come after President Donald Trump, who has clashed with several of the biggest tech companies, on Wednesday threatened to take action against them with Executive Orders.

CEO Cook rejected the notion there is nothing to stop Apple from raising the commissions it charges in the App Store.

“I disagree strongly with that,” he said.

“We have fierce competition at the developer side and the customer side, which is essentially so competitive I would describe it as a street fight for market share in the smartphone business.”

In his opening remarks, Zuckerberg told lawmakers that China is building its “own version of the internet focused on very different ideas, and they are exporting their vision to other countries.”

A detailed report with anti-trust allegations against the four tech platforms and recommendations on how to tame their market power could be released later this year by the committee.