Skip to main content

Big Tech CEOs’ showdown with Congress: The antitrust hearing that wasn’t

All eyes were on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to see if Congress could muster up the focus to figure out whether four of the biggest tech companies of our time were really monopolies. What happened instead was rhetorical chaos and grandstanding.

Whatever hope there might have been that this hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust would be focused and pointed in its questions was quickly dashed: It became clear within minutes that the members of Congress would take their time to ask more or less whatever they wanted of the four tech titans assembled before them.

Related Videos

Scattershot questions ranged from the Representatives’ personal grievances against Gmail’s spam filters to the four CEOs’ thoughts on cancel culture to whether they supported the Southern Poverty Law Center.

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapa
House of Representatives

Several did manage to stick to the program: Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington State asked some very direct questions of the four about their data collection practices, whether they’ve ever copied their competitors, and whether they’re systematically monopolizing the ad market while controlling all sides of it.

But inbetween the lines of cutting moments from Jayapal — as well as Representatives Mary Gay Scanlon, Joe Neguse, Lucy McBath, Chairman David Cicilline, and a few others who mostly concentrated on questions of antitrust and whether the companies have too much power — other members such as Jim Jordan of Ohio and Matt Gaetz of Florida seemed to have personal axes to grind with the four CEOs.

Jordan and Gaetz, both Republicans, spent several sessions questioning Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai on allegations that their platforms censor conservative news platforms, an issue that has dogged Big Tech for years but has little to do with the allegations of antitrust activity against them.

Representative Greg Steube of Florida at one point perhaps mistook Google CEO Pichai as his personal tech support, pointedly demanding to know why his campaign emails were being filtered into his constituents’ spam folders. One particular line of questioning that Gaetz chose to go down was whether Google at any point had collaborated with the Chinese military, an allegation Pichai said definitively was “absolutely false.”

A lack of focus

Almost all members of the committee had moments of getting sidetracked. Instead of focusing on how much power Big Tech wields over its competitors and whether they should be broken up like monopolies, viewers instead heard about allegations of conservative bias, the spread of misinformation, and where newspaper ad revenue comes from (or doesn’t) these days. Indeed, ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, during his second round of questioning, took the time to detail how he thought that big companies were a good thing, an apparent pro-monopoly stance.

Bezos, in particular, was very back on his heels when he went through his last round with the representatives. It was Bezos’s first time in front of Congress and many eyes were on him to answer for Amazon’s market dominance.

“It was dispiriting how little he seemed to know about what Amazon perpetuates against us,” said Dania Rajendra, the director of the Athena Coalition, a pro-labor organization that is aiming to reform Amazon’s labor practices.

“There’s a tremendous amount of power that Mr. Bezos wields over our everyday lives,” Rajendra told Digital Trends. “And it was really something to see how many times he suggested that he needed to get back to someone, and the way he couldn’t back up whether this or that was a corporate policy, and what the consequences were for failing to enforce it.”

What’s next for Big Tech?

Outside of some rough moments for Zuckerberg and Bezos, Big Tech likely has little to worry about. Trying to question all four men at once meant lawmakers barely got to press any one topic for long. Apple CEO Tim Cook came out of the hearing looking very good in comparison to the other three. Aside from the fact that not many members chose to take aim at Apple, he was able to employ a choice line about protecting children’s privacy when asked by Jayapal about why certain apps had been removed from the App Store.

Looking forward, of course, the question is whether any regulatory steps can or should be taken against these big companies.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
House of Representatives

Kevin Dinino, the President of KCD PR and a board member of the Cyber Center for Excellence, told Digital Trends that he didn’t believe there was a way to course-correct through regulation.

“Any change is going to have a material impact on any of these company’s bottom lines, and that will trickle down to us rank and file folks from a financial standpoint,” Dinino said, pointing out that many people’s 401k retirement accounts are wrapped up in the fate of these massive companies. “I don’t see how breaking them up is even feasible at this point. I truly do think they’ve become too big, but that’s due to their own success.”

Editors' Recommendations

Epic Games sues Google, Apple for alleged app store monopolies
Fortnite iPhone

Epic Games filed suit against Google for alleged monopolistic and anticompetitive app store practices, just hours after Fortnite was taken down from the Google Play Store and the gaming studio filed a lawsuit against Apple on similar grounds. Google’s antitrust behavior, Epic Games argues, breaks Android’s original “open ecosystem” promises and eliminates consumer choice.

In its complaint filed Thursday, August 13, Epic Games says that such anticompetitive policies, which violate both the Sherman Act and California’s Cartwright Act, have enabled Google to build a monopoly and stifled “competition in the distribution of Android apps using myriad contractual and technical barriers.”

Read more
The Big Tech coalition probably can’t save the election. But it’s a start
Styled Graphic featuring Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai

With the announcement that the big names of Silicon Valley will be joining forces to “discuss with government agencies [how] to secure the November election” comes the question: Does it matter?

As reported by The New York Times, the group of Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Google will meet with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Department of Justice’s National Security Division. LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft, Pinterest, Reddit, Verizon Media and the Wikimedia Foundation are also reportedly involved.

Read more
Kamala Harris is Biden’s VP selection, and that may be good news for Big Tech
Kamala Harris

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Tuesday that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) is his running mate. After nearly four years as a senator from California and six years as that state’s attorney general, Harris has plenty of experience with Silicon Valley, and that history could inform the tech policies of a Biden (or even future Harris) administration. If the past is any indication, Harris’ ascension may be a win for Big Tech.
Where does Harris stand on antitrust?
During her 2020 presidential campaign, Harris criticized tech companies like Facebook for abusing user data, although she didn’t go as far as candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) in calling for the breakup of big tech.

Read more