Representatives from big tech companies struggled to provide answers as they were questioned by Congress about possible antitrust violations in hearings last week.
As part of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee investigation, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple testified Tuesday about the “impact of market power of online platforms on innovation and entrepreneurship,” according to a media release.
Rep. David Cicilline, chairman of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, said that “the internet has become increasingly concentrated, less open and growingly hostile to innovation and entrepreneurship.”
The Rhode Island Democrat also read testimony submitted by Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor and big tech critic, The Washington Post reported.
“We are becoming a country of giant concerns, admirable in their way, but where incremental improvement is the norm, where bureaucracy rules, and stagnation may be inevitable,” Wu wrote. “We will become a country where inventors and entrepreneurs dream of being bought, not of building something of their own.”
Cicilline questioned Amazon’s associate general counsel on competition, Nate Sutton, Inside Sources reported.
“I think we see a tremendous amount concentration of market power that is resulting in less choice and worse quality of products for working people,” he said. “Retailers and manufacturers of consumer goods are relying on Amazon. Doesn’t that create a conflict of interest?”
Although Sutton responded that Amazon “has been very proud” of helping its third-party sellers “grow,” Cicilline pushed further about using the data from those sellers for competition, citing stories from sellers who say Amazon creates knockoffs of their products.
“Do you use consumer data to favor Amazon products?” he asked. “Analysts estimate that between 80-90 percent of sales go to the Amazon buy box. You’re not using that in any way to change the algorithm support the sale of Amazon-branded products? The best purchase to you is an Amazon product.”
“No sir, that’s not true,” Sutton said. “If we did that, they’d go elsewhere, they have many options.”
Rep. Joe Neguse asked Facebook’s head of global policy development, Matt Perault, if he thinks Facebook is a monopoly. After Perault answered, Neguse summarized that Perault believes Facebook has a number of competitors.
The Colorado Democrat then pointed out that four of the largest social media networks in the world by active users — Facebook, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram — are owned by Facebook.
When a company owns 4 of the largest 6 entities measured by active users in the world in that industry, as Facebook does, we have a word for that.
It is monopoly. pic.twitter.com/fpzSIur84c
— Rep. Joe Neguse (@RepJoeNeguse) July 17, 2019
“So you can understand my skepticism because when a company owns four of the largest six entities measured by active users in the world in that industry, we have a word for that: It’s monopoly, or at least monopoly power,” he said.
The big tech companies also appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution last week.
Google’s vice president for public policy, Karan Bhatia, was questioned about allegations of the company censoring conservative voices.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, in particular, grilled Google about censorship of political voices in the United States and in China. Bhatia refused to submit to an audit of Google’s content moderation practices or give an answer to why the public should trust that Google will not push its own ideological agenda.
“Clearly trust and patience in your company and the behavior of your monopoly has run out,” Hawley said. “It has certainly run out with me, and I think it’s time for some accountability.”