Wednesday’s hearing was supposed to focus on anti-competitive practices; instead, a steady stream of questions about censorship, political favoritism and spam
Wednesday’s congressional hearing on potential antitrust practices among large technology companies – including testimonies from chief executives of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet, Google’s flagship company – was emptied between the assumption and direct absurdity; frankly, hearing is more inclined towards the latter and seems unlikely to have a lasting impact.
Together, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai run the companies with a combined valuation of $ 4.85 trillion. There were relevant questions worth asking about how their businesses operate ̵1; and some were asked – but on several occasions, the hearing devolved into a farce; questions about censorship decisions made by technology companies not even included in the hearing were asked, while at other times, representatives shouted at each other to wear their masks.
If you missed hearing, don’t worry about it. Here are the seven moments that stood out.
1. Censorship was a hot topic
Wednesday’s hearing was itself focused on anti-competitive practices by the four technology giants. But social media censorship, as some might have expected, remained a topic that several GOP congressmen preferred to discuss. Things didn’t go to the big start, though. Early in the hearing, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) Asked Zuckerberg why his company dropped the recent post of Donald Trump Jr. on hydroxylchlorinin. The problem, though, was that Sensenbrenner was referring to something Twitter did, not Facebook.
“I think you can refer to what happened on Twitter,” Zuckerberg said.
At other points, Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s record of content censorship, saying the company had “distinguished ourselves as one of the companies that advocates the most free expression.” He added that Facebook has no interest in being the “arbiters of truth,” but that it remains focused on removing hateful content.
On Wednesday, the dividing line seemed a disturbing Republican that Facebook was crushing too much on content, while Democratic representatives like Dave Cicilline slammed Facebook for not doing enough to censor hate speech.
2. Bezos had this easy – unless he succeeded
Amazon’s honcho head went almost two hours without being asked a single question – an obvious length of time that many Twitter users were quickly pointing out. Circumstances changed, however, when Rep. Pramila Jayapal, from Amazon’s Washington home state, pressured Bezos over Amazon’s business practices. “Let me ask you, Mr. Bezos, does Amazon ever access and use seller data when making business decisions?” asked the Democrat.
Bezos said Amazon’s policy prohibits this move, but that he “can’t guarantee” it never happened.
Bezos was later asked if Amazon had deliberately reduced the price of diapers to undermine Diapers.com; Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Penn.) Said documents showed Amazon was willing to lose $ 200 million when it sold cheap diapers to give a bust to its competitor. In the end, Amazon bought Diapers.com in 2010 for $ 450 million. The move, according to Scanlon, was a prime example of Amazon using its weight to systematically reduce rivals. Bezos said he disagrees with the premise, and that he doesn’t remember too much about the events, which happened a decade ago. Both exchanges stood out as rare moments when Wednesday’s hearing seemed to stick to the script.
3. The masks became the new chin
There were a few moments of trial, including when Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was said to put on his mask when he took an exception to Scanlon where he said he was pushing “fringe conspiracy theories” on censorship. You can watch the moment below, courtesy of CBS News:
“Put on your mask!”
A shout of applause among the members of the subcommittee of the House at the technical hearing, after Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon suggests Rep. Jim Jordan is insisting on “marginal conspiracy theories” https://t.co/83sKht0bRx pic.twitter.com/E6fEZKT6tO
– CBS News (@CBSNews) July 29, 2020
4. Zuckerberg defends Instagram acquisition
Zuckerberg animatedly pushed back when House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said Facebook violated antitrust laws when it acquired Instagram for $ 1 billion in 2012. The move was not illegal, Zuckerberg said, because Facebook and Instagram had a number of competitors at the time in terms of photo-sharing apps; he also pointed out that the Federal Trade Commission understood this when approving the agreement. Zuckerberg acknowledged that the deal doesn’t seem so fair now that Instagram has more than 1 billion users, but that the platform’s success at the time was no guarantee.
“I think after the light it probably seems obvious that Instagram would have reached the scale it has today, but at the time it was far from obvious,” Zuckerberg said.
Nadler doubled down, saying Zuckerberg’s admission on Instagram was a threat to Facebook’s business only to show it was a corrupt deal in the first place.
“This is exactly the kind of anti-competitive acquisition that antitrust laws were meant to prevent,” Nadler said. “It should never happen in the first place, it should never be allowed to happen, and it can’t happen again.”
5. Pichai says that Google is not playing political favorites
Despite concerns from many conservatives, Pichai said Google is not deliberately removing conservative stores from its search results. Pichai added that Google is politically “neutral” and is doing nothing to unravel the stories unfairly in favor of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at the expense of President Trump. “We don’t do any work to become politically dependent in one way or another,” Pichai said. “It’s against our core values.”
His comments come after Breitbart.com editor-in-chief Alex Marlow told Fox News “Tucker Carlson’s website had seen Google-referred traffic fall off a cliff since the 2016 election. .
6. No slave labor
The four technology executors vowed never to use slave laborers to create their products in response to a question from Rep. Ken Buck from Colorado. “I want to take part in legislation with you, congressman. Let me be clear: Forced labor is disgusting, and we don’t tolerate it at Apple,” Cook said.
The issue was not completely out of the blue; Sen. Josh Hawley’s office (R-Missouri) recently said a number of global companies, including Nike, were linked to Uighur ethnic minority slave labor camps in China. Considering Apple’s close business ties with China, as well as Alphabet’s connections to the country, the collective response was good to hear.
In the end, Cook – the man who runs the most valuable company in the world – had a relatively quiet day. He was defending the App Store at a few different points, saying that the company could charge a 30% commission on all App Store sales, but that nowhere is it close to a monopoly when it comes to the App Store market. -app (or any other market).
7. Email problems
One of the most fun moments – or a waste of time, depending on your perspective – came when Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) Asked Pichai a simple question: Why are his campaign emails going directly to the Gmail spam folder?
Steube worried his parents and followers that they were finding it difficult to receive his campaign emails – and wondered if it had anything to do with anti-Republican prejudice on Google. Pichai said that was certainly not the case, and that he simply slowed down Gmail by prioritizing emails from accounts he knew were connected to friends and family.
You can see Steube’s full question here:
Rep. Steube complains to Google’s CEO about his campaign emails going into Gmail’s spam boxes and says this is only happening to Republicans. (No, almost every campaign deals with email delivery issues.) Pic.twitter.com/XH1floO9ff
– Tony Webster (@webster) July 29, 2020
The exchange was a microcosm of the day. The hearing not only raised questions that were not German for the present topic, but also failed to provide a few useful details on whether the four companies participated in anti-competitive practices. Don’t expect much to come to Wednesday’s hearing.