The heads of tech giants Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook have faced congress, with questions probing on anti-competitive practices, data collection, freedom of speech and the privacy rights of its users.
We’ve got the takeaways from the hearing right here.
Combined, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google’s parent company, Alphabet account for $5 trillion of the United States’ $22.3 trillion economy.
The world’s richest man, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos joined founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, Alphabet’s CEO Sundar Pichai and head of Apple, Tim Cook who were called to testify in front of Congress.
Freedom of Speech
Republican member of Congress Jim Jordan asked all four companies their stance on protecting freedom of speech, which is an explicit part of the U.S. constitution as the First Amendment.
Apple’s Tim Cook responded that “I think it’s good for people to hear different points of view and decide for themselves.”
Head of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, Sundar Pichai said that “we take pride in the fact that across our platforms, including YouTube, there are more diverse voices than ever before.”
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg responded that “I believe strongly in free expression. Giving people a voice is an important part of what our services do. And I’m very worried about some of the forces of illiberalism that I see in this country.”
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos added that “I am concerned in general about that, and what I find a little discouraging is that it appears to me that social media is a nuance-destruction machine. And I don’t think that’s helpful for a democracy.”
Amazon Using Seller Data to Advance Amazon Sales
Democratic representative Pramila Jayapal asked Jeff Bezos whether or not Amazon was using data collected from its sellers to benefit Amazon itself. Bezos responded that “I can’t answer that question yes or no… We have a policy against using seller-specific data to aid our private label business, but I can guarantee you that that policy has never been violated.”
Jayapal hit back at Bezos, stating that “you have access to data that your competitors do not have,” while also “continuously monitoring” data to make sure sellers ‘are never going to get big enough that they can compete with you- that is actually the concern that the committee has.”
Apple’s Anti-Competitive App Store Practices
Democratic Congressman Henry Johnson took aim at Apple’s Tim Cook over what he described as the company making up rules “as they go” for its app store, often at a cost of its third-party developers. Johnson said Apple often “changed to benefit Apple at the expense of [third party] developers,” and acted to discriminate against certain creators.
Cook responded that “we treat every developer the same,” adding that “we have open and transparent rules… we do look at every app before it goes on. But those apps, those rules apply evenly to everyone.”
Apple has in recent weeks faced mounting criticism for taking as much as 30% for downloads of third party apps sold on its App Store. Cook directly addressed it, stating that “for the vast majority of apps on the App Store, developers keep 100% of the money they make.”
“The only apps that are subject to a commission are those where the developer acquires a customer on an Apple device and where features or services would be experienced and consumed on an Apple device.”
“In the App Store’s more than 10 year history, we have never raised the commission or added a single fee. In fact, we’ve reduced it for subscriptions and exempted additional categories of apps,” he said.
Chinese Intellectual Property Theft
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was the only CEO to single out China as guilty of intellectual property theft. While Tim Cook and Sunder Pichai both said that they weren’t aware of specific instances, Zuckerberg was the sole company to single China out, stating that “I think it’s well-documented that the Chinese government steals technology from US companies.’
While closing the hearing, committee chair Cicilline took aim at the heads of the technology companies, stating that “these companies as they exist today have a monopoly of power. Some need to be broken up. All need to be properly regulated and held accountable.”
“We must make our choice. We may have democracy or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few… we can’t have both,” he said.