WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A much-anticipated congressional hearing featuring the CEOs of four of America’s largest tech firms kicked off on Wednesday afternoon in a confrontation that promises a healthy dose of political theater, while also offering a window into the thinking of lawmakers trying to rein in Big Tech.
FILE PHOTO: Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Inc’s chief executive and founder, speaks at the company’s “re:MARS” conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Jeffrey Dastin/File Photo
Facebook Inc’s (FB.O) Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) Jeff Bezos, Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O)-owned Google’s Sundar Pichai and Apple Inc’s APPL.O Tim Cook – who together represent about $5 trillion of the U.S. economy – are appearing via videoconference before the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel.
President Donald Trump, who has clashed with several of the biggest tech companies, on Wednesday threatened to take action against them.
“If Congress doesn’t bring fairness to Big Tech, which they should have done years ago, I will do it myself with Executive Orders,” he said on Twitter.
The president did not spell out what the executive order would say but has been irritated by tech companies, including Facebook and Twitter, which sometimes take action on his postings on issues like treatments for the coronavirus. He has also clashed with the Washington Post, which is owned by Bezos.
U.S. Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat and chair of the antitrust subcommittee, also pummeled the four companies.
“They have too much power,” he said in opening remarks.
“While these dominant firms may still produce some new innovative products, their dominance is killing the small businesses, manufacturing, and overall dynamism that are the engines of the American economy.”
Facebook and Apple’s chief executives have indicated they plan to use the specter of competition from China to push back against lawmakers seeking to rein them in.
Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline has been looking in to allegations by critics that the companies have hurt competitors and consumers with their business practices and seemingly insatiable appetite for data.
The CEOs plan to defend themselves reut.rs/2P4lpYN by saying they themselves face competition and by pushing back against claims they are dominant, which has led to fears the hearing will bring up little new information to hold the companies accountable in the long term. reut.rs/2P4lpYN
In his opening remarks, Zuckerberg will tell lawmakers that China is building its “own version of the internet focused on very different ideas, and they are exporting their vision to other countries.”
Apple’s Cook will point out that the “fiercely competitive” smartphone market includes China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL], which has been a focus of considerable U.S. national security concern.
The hearing marks the first time the four CEOs have appeared together before lawmakers, and will also be the first-ever appearance of Bezos before Congress.
The hearing will also test U.S. lawmakers’ ability to ask pointed questions that reflect an understanding of how Big Tech operates. Previous high-profile hearings involving tech companies have exposed the somewhat limited grasp of Washington politicians of how the internet and technology work.
It will also offer lawmakers from both parties a chance to address content censorship – an increasingly sore point for Republican lawmakers, who have complained of anti-conservative bias at Big Tech companies.
A detailed report with antitrust allegations against the four tech platforms and recommendations on how to tame their market power could be released by late summer or early fall by the committee, which has separately amassed 1.3 million documents from the companies, senior committee aides said.
Reporting by Nandita Bose and Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Chris Sanders and Matthew Lewis