Tech CEOs brace for House grilling

The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google will testify before Congress on Wednesday in what will be a crucial hearing for the future of both antitrust law and Big Tech’s relationship with Washington.

It will be the first time that Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai appear for questioning together and comes as the congressional panel hosting the hearing enters the final stretch of its investigation into digital marketplace competition.

For Democrats on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, led by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Wednesday’s testimony will be one of the last major components of that exhaustive process, which started in June 2019 and included hundreds of hours of calls, meetings and briefings, as well as the review of 1.3 million documents. No release date has been announced for the panel’s report.

A few Republicans on the subcommittee have signaled they will use the hearing to grill the nation’s top tech CEOs on content moderation, pursuing persistent yet unsubstantiated allegations that social media platforms discriminate against conservatives.

Amazon: Bezos will likely face questioning about Amazon’s dual role as the operator of an online marketplace and a seller of goods on that market.

A bipartisan group of members from the House Judiciary Committee has wanted Bezos to testify ever since The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that the company used information from other sellers on the platform to make decisions regarding its private label business, which includes more than 243,000 products.

Apple: Cicilline has indicated his questioning of Cook will focus on Apple’s App Store and allegations that the company buries apps that could displace its own products.

“Because of the market power that Apple has, it is charging exorbitant rents — highway robbery, basically — bullying people to pay 30 percent or denying access to their market,” the Rhode Island lawmaker said on a podcast with The Verge last month.

Facebook: The company’s acquisitions of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014 are likely to feature heavily in Wednesday’s testimony.

The company claims that concerns about dominating social media because of those purchases are overblown, emphasizing that the two platforms were not that big before being purchased by Facebook and that it still has to compete with apps like TikTok. Zuckerberg will likely point out that his company’s purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp were approved by federal regulators at the time.

Google: The biggest competition concerns with Google are tied to its dominance in search and the ad tech market.

The company has been accused of self-preferencing in search results, burying vertical search competitors far down the page. The European Commission fined Google $2.7 billion in 2017 for boosting its own shopping results over competing services.

Google has strengthened its position in the ad tech space in recent years with acquisitions of companies like DoubleClick and AdMob that give it dominance in nearly every step of the online advertising chain.