Politics

US MPs shot at tech heavyweights

Bosses from Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google at congress hearing. Competition Committee Chairman: “Monopoly power must end”

A tough course is emerging in the US Congress against American technology giants, which can result in stricter rules to restrict their market power. During a five-hour hearing in a US House subcommittee, both Democrats and Republicans shot at the leaders of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.

The hearing convinced him that these companies had “monopoly power” in their current form, said chairman of the Subcommittee on Competition and Commercial Law, David Cicilline. “Some should be smashed, others have to be properly regulated.” Their control of the market allows them to suppress competition. “That must have an end.” The subcommittee belonging to the Justice Committee will now write a report with recommendations.

Allegation of unfair competition

Democrats and Republicans are bothered by different things. The questions of democratic MPs were primarily about the accusation of unfair competition with competitors. Republicans on the committee, on the other hand, used the time to reiterate that online companies were suppressing conservative views. That is what US President Donald Trump repeatedly claims. He threatened on Twitter to use presidential decrees against tech companies if Congress didn’t crack down hard enough.

For example, Google boss Sundar Pichai was asked by Greg Steube why his campaign emails with his own father ended up in the Gmail spam folder. MP Jim Jordan asked Pichai for assurances that the Internet company would not help Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

EPA / ALMOND NGAN / POOL

Sundar Pichai

In a question and answer session, the Democrats especially hit the founders and bosses of Facebook and Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. Bezos was showered with questions about whether Amazon used data from retailers who sell goods on the Group’s platform in order to compete with their own offers. The Amazon boss said there were internal regulations against it, but he could not guarantee that they were never violated.

Detached

In addition, Bezos could not rule out that stolen items had also been sold on Amazon’s platform. Overall, his answers showed how far he has become from the day-to-day business of the world’s largest online retailer. For example, Bezos did not know whether retailers selling on Amazon’s platform had to provide phone numbers.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law on Capitol Hill in WashingtonREUTERS / POOL

In the case of Facebook, the questioners concentrated on the takeover of the Instagram photo platform and the WhatsApp chat service. MP Joseph Neguse got Zuckerberg to say that Instagram and WhatsApp not only complemented the online network’s offerings, but were also competitors. Under certain circumstances, this admission could become relevant under competition law. For this purpose, a graphic from an internal Facebook presentation was displayed, which was based on figures from 2011, the online network accounted for 95 percent of social media revenue in the USA.

Apple boss Tim Cook got less tough questions in comparison. The main focus was on whether Apple developers put competing apps on its download platform at a disadvantage and demand too high information from app providers.

House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law on 'Online Platforms and Market Power'EPA / ALMOND NGAN / POOL

Corona hearing

The four top managers were connected to the Washington hearing via video conference. The corona crisis left its mark on the appointment. The CEOs had to ensure that no employees helped them behind the camera. MEPs had to wear masks outside of their speaking hours. “Put on your mask!”, They were warned several times. Bezos, however, made the same mistake as many homeworkers in the Corona crisis: he spoke straight away when he answered, without deactivating the mute function.

Even before the first questions, it became clear that the MPs are very critical of online companies. “Our founders did not bow to the king, nor should we bow to the emperors of the online economy,” said democratic politician Cicilline. Democrat Jamie Raskin referred to the “robber barons” – the powerful and ruthless US capitalists from the 19th century – of “cyber barons”.

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