CEOs Of 4 Tech Giants To Testify Before House Panel Hearing

Jul 29, 2020
Originally published on July 30, 2020 5:00 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So today could go down in history as the tech industry's big moment. For the first time, the four CEOs of tech giants Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google will appear together before Congress - well, not exactly together, via digital video. Really the sign of our times, right? The big overarching question here - do the biggest tech companies use their power to hurt competitors and help themselves?

NPR's Alina Selyukh is here to cover this. And just to disclose that all four of these companies are among NPR's financial supporters. OK. Alina, it is not a secret that these companies are really big. So why is Congress doing this hearing now?

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Right. I think lawmakers are finally considering whether they need to take a more active role in policing these powerful platforms. These companies have long been held in high regard as models of American scrappy ingenuity, but they stopped being scrappy startups a long time ago, as you point out. And put together, now they're worth almost $5 trillion. For their entire existence, they faced very little regulation. In recent years, critics have piled on accusations of anti-competitive behavior. The Justice Department, state attorneys general started investigations, and so has the committee that's holding this hearing. They've been investigating for over a year, and today is the last stop on that journey.

GREENE: Well, so - is this accusation of anti-competitive behavior, is that really the focus here?

SELYUKH: That's the expectation - that competition will be at the center stage. The four companies are of course very different, lots of nuance there. But generally, critics have been saying how competing with at least three of them - Amazon, Apple and Google - is like playing against a team that also owns the stadium, hires the referees and writes the rules of the game.

GREENE: Like, what don't they do? You said they're all different. I mean, can you talk about what some of the different questions might be for each of the different companies?

SELYUKH: Sure. Bit of a dense list - but let me try to hit some of the biggest themes. For Amazon's Jeff Bezos, the world's richest person, this is actually his first appearance before Congress. But if the committee sticks to the topic, I'm expecting lots of questions about whether Amazon exploits data it collects from other sellers on the platform for its own benefit - back to this idea of Amazon both running the marketplace and selling on it.

For Apple's Tim Cook, questions are likely to focus on the App Store and whether Apple gives itself an unfair advantage in how it charges developers for every transaction there. For Google's Sundar Pichai, the big themes are Google's dominant search and digital advertising, where the company controls almost a third of the market.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has been to the Hill a lot lately. He'll probably get more questions about disinformation and political speech but also how the company buys or copies its competitors. All the companies are expected to push back that they face a lot of competition and that they represent a big success story of American innovation.

GREENE: So you said this hearing is the end of a yearlong investigation. What happens after this?

SELYUKH: Right. So the committee will finish and publish the results. I spoke with Gene Kimmelman, former Department of Justice antitrust official, now at consumer group Public Knowledge. And he sums up the question at the heart of all this.

GENE KIMMELMAN: Beyond a simple antitrust case, what does the law need to look like to ensure that we have open and vibrant competition in a digital marketplace?

SELYUKH: So maybe there will be a pathway to reconsider existing laws, maybe write new ones which, of course, the companies will fight tooth and nail.

GREENE: NPR's Alina Selyukh. Alina, thanks.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.