US tech giants are abusing power, top Democrat tells CEOs

  • Amazon
  • Thursday, 30 Jul 2020

In written testimony released late July 28, the CEOs – (from left) Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos – told Congress that competition is thriving across the tech industry and consumers are benefiting as a result. — AFP

US technology giants have too much power and control over digital markets and are harming workers, consumers and small businesses across the economy, said the Democratic lawmaker leading a US House inquiry into the companies.

Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island on July 29 leveled a blistering attack against Inc, Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc and Apple Inc as the companies’ chief executives prepared to testify before the House antitrust committee.

"Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, these corporations already stood out as titans in our economy,” Cicilline said. "In the wake of Covid-19, however, they are likely to emerge stronger and more powerful than ever before.”

The CEOs are expected to face hours of tough questions from lawmakers who are nearing the end of a yearlong investigation into whether the companies are using their dominance to harm smaller rivals and thwart competition. Cicilline is expected to issue a report recommending ways to strengthen the antitrust laws that failed to rein in the tech giants.

July 29’s session is the first time Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has testified before Congress and the first time all four tech leaders have appeared together.

In written testimony released late July 28, the CEOs – Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai and Apple’s Tim Cook – told Congress that competition is thriving across the tech industry and consumers are benefiting as a result.

"The global retail market we compete in is strikingly large and extraordinarily competitive,” Bezos said in his statement. "Unlike industries that are winner-take-all, there’s room in retail for many winners.”

They touted the various ways they help small businesses grow, whether third-party sellers on Amazon or independent developers that build apps for the Apple App Store. They also portrayed their companies as embodying American entrepreneurship.

Zuckerberg said competition is so fierce that he expects one day a product will replace Facebook – and he wants Facebook to build it. He also positioned the debate over the tech companies as a geopolitical issue, warning that efforts to break up or limit the reach of American companies could open the door to Chinese competitors.

"We believe in values – democracy, competition, inclusion and free expression – that the American economy was built on,” Zuckerberg said in his statement. "There’s no guarantee our values will win out. For example, China is building its own version of the Internet focused on very different ideas, and they are exporting their vision to other countries.”

The hearing is the clearest sign yet of the intense scrutiny the four companies – with a combined value of nearly US$5tril (RM21.2tril) – face in Washington. While the committee’s inquiry is focused on competition, the companies are also grappling with criticism over privacy breaches, election misinformation, the spread of racist content – and in the case of Amazon, its treatment of workers during the pandemic.

While Democrats are expected to focus their questioning on how the companies are a threat to competition, Republicans on the panel plan to target what they see as political bias against conservatives. A confidential memo from Republican leadership preparing lawmakers for the hearing casts the effort to change antitrust law as a Democratic push to undermine the legal regime that has fostered a thriving American economy.

The companies face a variety of complaints about their business practices, from charges that Amazon abuses its power over the third-party merchants that sell on its site to allegations that Facebook acquires companies to eliminate potential rivals. All four companies are under federal, and in some cases state, investigations by antitrust authorities.

Critics claim that Google’s dominance of search and online advertising allows it to preference its own products and squeeze publishers. And some app makers contend that Apple uses its grip on high-end devices to force apps into its payment system, extracting high fees in the process and deciding which ones survive. – Bloomberg

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