NBC News: Congress prepares to grill CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google

July 28, 2020 Media

Big Tobacco has done it. So have Big Pharma and the Big Automakers. Now it’s Big Tech’s turn.

On Wednesday, the tech sector becomes the latest industry to sit in the glaring spotlight of a high-profile congressional hearing when the CEOs of four of the biggest companies — Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — testify together in a live, televised hearing.

The executives are set to face hours of questions from members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law about whether they hold monopoly-like grips on the digital economy and whether their companies should be broken up or in some way contained.

People concerned about the power of the tech industry said they believe the hearing could be a historic moment to draw new attention to old ideas about trustbusting.

“It’s the beginning of a revived moment in antitrust,” said Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor and author of “Break ‘Em Up,” a forthcoming book about monopolization.

Teachout, one of the most visible critics of Big Tech’s power, said that it’s been decades since Congress has paid this much attention to the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few businesses. She said the hearing comes at a time when the public is thirsting for some action.

Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, an advocacy group that favors breaking up big companies, said the executives might have an easier time avoiding follow-up questions than if they were in person. But she said that if they do, lawmakers should respond with subpoenas to get the answers they need.

“Having to sit there in that room — looking at this panel of lawmakers and answering their questions face to face — is an important moment and spectacle, but at the end of the day it’s about the substance,” Miller said.

She said she expects the hearing to kick off broader discussions about the power of large, private corporations, not just in the economy, but in the political system, too.

“The tech corporations are the tip of the spear, I would say,” she said. “We need overall to decentralize economic power in our society, and that is a critical and urgent project.”