Big Tech Hearing Live Updates: Google Slammed for Monopoly, Facebook’s Instagram Takeover was Anti Competitive

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The big day of the unprecedented hearing is here, where the four most powerful technology executives of the world are coming together to answer questions thrown at them by members of the US Congress. The lawmakers are treading cautiously this time, with only the antitrust subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee set to put forth targeted questions at Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Google and (its parent company) Alphabet’s CEO Sundar Pichai. While these four companies, arguably among the mightiest companies in the world right now, have testified before the US Congress together, this hearing is unprecedented for the fact that this is the very first time that all the four top executives will be answering questions together, in one platform.The hearing will be held remotely owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, and cover a wide range of questions regarding the might of these four companies. Primary questions will revolve around the market domination of each of these companies, their market practices, and attempt to understand whether they are stifling an open, competitive atmosphere in their respective industries. The subcommittee will also attempt to look into whether each of these companies need to be broken up to maintain a balance, and on this note, lawmakers in the US Congress will combine responses from this session with hundreds of hours of interviews, and a reported set of 1.3 million documents put together, to understand what is the nature of the new set of legislations that are required with regards to antitrust laws, as well as imposing necessary regulations in the field of technology.Read More

Jul 29, 2020 11:58 pm (IST)

Rep. Matt Gaetz highlights Google’s involvement with law enforcement services going forward. Also in focus is Google’s work with China.

Jul 29, 2020 11:55 pm (IST)

Cook says the app market is a “street fight for market share in the smartphone business.” However, it isn’t entirely clear if you consider only the Apple ecosystem.

Jul 29, 2020 11:53 pm (IST)

The 30% App Store commission waiver comes into spotlight – and Cook says it is available “to anyone who meets the conditions”. The conditions involve processing payments by using Apple’s tools. “84% of the apps on the App Store pay nothing to Apple,” says Cook.

Jul 29, 2020 11:52 pm (IST)

Tim Cook entirely denies allegations of favouring certain app developers in the Apple App Store bureaucracy.

Jul 29, 2020 11:51 pm (IST)

Apple now faces allegations of being the sole decision maker behind an app being available on its Store, thereby wielding too much power over small businesses. Their Store rules are arbitrarily interpreted, and change as per convenience, hence being severely anti-competitive, says congressman.

Jul 29, 2020 11:47 pm (IST)

Rep. Ken Buck targets Google, directly relating its corporate policy practices to China’s strictly surveilling Communist Party.

Jul 29, 2020 11:46 pm (IST)

“Such practices (such as Instagram’s takeover by Facebook) should never be allowed to happen again. This is why our antitrust laws exist,” says Nadler. This hearing is proving to be far more hard hitting than the ones before.

Jul 29, 2020 11:43 pm (IST)

Zuckerberg says that it never expected Instagram to reach the heights it did today, and claims that it was never a guarantee for the company to succeed. Instead, he says that Instagram is what it is today because of Facebook’s efforts. Inadvertently, he confirmed what Dem. Nadler alleged to him as Facebook preventing open market competition.

Jul 29, 2020 11:39 pm (IST)

Dem. Jerry Nadler now asks Mark Zuckerberg about the circumstances behind Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. It is an important precedent for antitrust practices, but… aren’t there more recent concerns about Facebook right now?

Jul 29, 2020 11:36 pm (IST)

The next line of questioning targets Facebook’s content censoring guidelines. In question is Donald Trump’s post on hydroxychloroquine, which Sensenbrenner alleges is a post that Facebook has no business taking a call on. Instead, the call should lie with the readers. Ironically, this falls in line with Zuckerberg’s thought process itself.

Jul 29, 2020 11:31 pm (IST)

To defend Google against the “walled garden” accusation, Pichai says that most of the search traffic actually comes from outside Google tools. The company allegedly threatened to delist Yelp when the latter complained against their content being used on Google’s local search results. Cicilline further says that Google uses its search analytics to identify its biggest competitors, and strategically stifles their visibility to keep users on the Google circuit. “It has dramatically increased the cost of users to access the internet,” says Cicilline.

Jul 29, 2020 11:27 pm (IST)

Pichai says Google’s ad earnings from search results are over $100 billion.

Jul 29, 2020 11:26 pm (IST)

“We support 1.4 billion small businesses, and $385 billion in their operations,” defends Pichai. The next question targets Google’s ‘relevant results’ – which Cicilline says are actually results from which Google earns the most amount of profits.

Jul 29, 2020 11:25 pm (IST)

And with that, questions begin – Dem. Cicilline begins by highlighting Google’s search engine bias, and how they “steal content from honest businesses”.

Jul 29, 2020 11:22 pm (IST)

“I recognise that there are concerns about the size and powers of tech companies,” says Zuckerberg. He’s talking about how Facebook is not the leader in advertising, videos, messaging and many more, putting the ball in the courts of his fellow CEOs. He’s taking this time to say that Facebook isn’t even the fastest growing app in USA. “That’s TikTok”.

Jul 29, 2020 11:19 pm (IST)

Now, we have Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s opening testimony. He begins by stating that the tech industry is an American success story, and how Facebook is part of it.

Jul 29, 2020 11:18 pm (IST)

“I’m here today because scrutiny is reasonable and appropriate. The Apple App Store now has 1.7 million apps, only 60 of which are Apple’s.” This and more about the App Store’s revenue distribution claims, underlined by Cook right now.

Jul 29, 2020 11:16 pm (IST)

“Companies like Samsung and Huawei have built successful businesses with a different approach. We’re okay with that – our approach is the best, not the most,” says Cook. Neat side swipe right there.

Jul 29, 2020 11:15 pm (IST)

Now, it’s time for Apple CEO, Tim Cook. He begins with the philosophy behind Apple’s products. “Products like iPhone, just work.” That’s a line that we’ve all heard before.

Jul 29, 2020 11:13 pm (IST)

Pichai now highlights the impact of Android, which we’re assuming would be a key area of scrutiny itself.

Jul 29, 2020 11:12 pm (IST)

“Competition drives us to innovate, and leads to better products, while lowering costs” – Pichai.

Jul 29, 2020 11:11 pm (IST)

Continuing on Bezos’ note, Pichai is highlighting how Google’s tools are producing “thousands of dollars” for Americans who use their services, in an opening bid to defend his company.

Jul 29, 2020 11:09 pm (IST)

Google CEO Sundar Pichai now introduces himself. “A discussion about competition is also a discussion about opportunity,” he says. Two sides to the coin.

Jul 29, 2020 11:07 pm (IST)

Bezos is highlighting the small share of US retail that Amazon accounts for, as well as the jobs that it has created, the minimum wage benefits it offers, and the platform that it has offered to other retailers – ironically the same ground for which it faces antitrust investigations.

Jul 29, 2020 11:05 pm (IST)

We begin with the testimony of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. He begins by giving a background of his family and childhood, which likely ties with his and Amazon’s understanding of America’s need for diversity. “The customers notice when you do the right things,” says Bezos.

Jul 29, 2020 11:01 pm (IST)

Sparks fly right at the onset, and we haven’t even heard from the four CEOs yet!

Jul 29, 2020 10:57 pm (IST)

A lot of Jordan’s statement is underlining Twitter’s recent labelling of certain posts, some controversial ones made by US President, Donald Trump.

Jul 29, 2020 10:56 pm (IST)

Rep. Jim Jordan’s opening note severely alleges technology platforms as stifling the voice of conservatives. This is a completely different topic altogether to handle.

Jul 29, 2020 10:53 pm (IST)

Key takeaways from members of the subcommittee:

1. Each of the four tech companies here – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google hold too much of the internet on their own rights.
2. These technologies define today’s marketplaces, hence qualifying them as monopolies. As a result, they can abuse their power to promote their own purposes, therefore wilfully stifling open, competitive markets – something that is critical to the ability for consumers to have a choice.
3. The real question is how these companies are abusing their power, and what must be done to prevent that.
4. To promote an open market, the US antitrust laws (which have often laid precedent for elsewhere) need to be upgraded proportionately.

Jul 29, 2020 10:48 pm (IST)

Market dominance in digital space is ripe for abuse, especially when it comes to protecting free speech. Your companies are large and successful, these aren’t problems. But, how do you use your size, success and power to improve the market for consumers – that is the question.

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