The Guardian: Congress forced Silicon Valley to answer for its misdeeds. It was a glorious sight
Our founders would not bow before a king, we should not bow before the emperors of the online economy.” That’s how Congressman David Cicilline started the remarkable hearing on Wednesday in the antitrust subcommittee, where four tech CEOs – Tim Cook of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon – finally had to answer questions about how their businesses operated. And the answers they gave weren’t pretty. The word both Republicans and Democrats used to describe their corporations was dominance, and as members unspooled the evidence they had collected in an investigation over the past year, it’s easy to see why.
Almost any moment of the four-hour hearing offered a stunning illustration of the extent of the bad behavior by these corporations. Take Amazon, whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, often seemed off-balance and unaware of his corporation’s own practices. Congresswoman Lucy McBath played audio of a seller on Amazon tearfully describing how her business and livelihood was arbitrarily destroyed by Amazon restricting sales of their product, for no reason the seller could discern. Bezos acted surprised, as he often did. Representative Jamie Raskin presented an email from Bezos saying about one acquisition that: “We’re buying market position not technology.” Bezos then admitted Amazon buys companies purely because of their “market position”, demonstrating that many of hundreds of acquisitions these tech companies have made were probably illegal.
Mark Zuckerberg had to confront his own emails in which he noted that Facebook’s purchase of Instagram was done to buy out a competitor. His response was that he didn’t remember, but that he imagined he was probably joking when he wrote that. One congresswoman on Joe Biden’s vice-presidential shortlist, Val Demings, asked Zuckerberg why he restricted Facebook’s tools for competitors like Pinterest, but not for non-competitors like Netflix. He had no answer. Congressman David Cicilline asked about Facebook promoting incendiary speech and making money off advertising sold next to that speech. Zuckerberg pivoted to free speech talking points, and Cicilline cut him off, “This isn’t a speech issue, it’s about your business model.”