The leaders of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, owner of Alphabet, appeared before U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday evening to defend their companies from claims of abuse of their power to crush competitors.
Here are five key moments from the hearing.
1. Reveal Mark Zuckerberg’s emails
Did Facebook buy Instagram in 2012 to neutralize a threat? This was the topic raised by Democratic representative Jerry Nadler.
Emails between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his chief financial officer David Ebersman were revealed during the hearing.
In one, Zuckerberg said: “These companies are nascent but the networks have been created, the brands are already significant and if they grow on a large scale they could be very destructive for us … I am curious if we should consider going after one or two. of them “.
Ebersman asked if Zuckerberg hoped to “neutralize a potential competitor”.
Zuckerberg replied that it was a combination of this and hoped to improve Facebook’s services.
In a follow-up email, he added: “I didn’t mean to imply that we would buy them to prevent them from competing with us in any way.”
The slide that presented this email to Congress was titled “Whoops!”, The technology news site reported by Verge.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Zuckerberg said that several international regulators – including the United States Federal Trade Commission – had investigated the acquisition at the time and had decided not to block it.
In another email, he said it would be some time before Facebook could afford to buy Google. At the hearing, Mr. Zuckerberg claimed that the comment was a joke.
2. Apple defends its 30% app cut
Democratic MP Henry Johnson raised concerns on the Apple App Store, suggesting that its rules were sometimes “changed for Apple’s benefit at the expense of [third-party] developers “and also discriminated between different creators.
“Sir, we treat all developers equally,” replied Apple CEO Tim Cook.
“We have open and transparent rules … let’s examine every app before it continues. But those apps, those rules apply uniformly to everyone.”
But emails between Apple’s senior vice president Eddy Cue and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos have shown that Apple has agreed to halve the App Store commission by 15% to get Amazon’s Prime Video on its platform.
In April 2020, Apple introduced a scheme that allows video streaming platforms to avoid the 30% commission if integrated with other Apple products, as reported by the Bloomberg news site. Amazon is part of this agreement.
In another email, sent ten years ago, Cue suggested that Apple could suffer a 40% cut rather than a 30% cut.
“In the App Store’s more than 10-year history, we have never increased the commission or added a single commission. In fact, we have reduced it for subscriptions and exempted further categories of apps,” said Cook at the hearing.
3. Republicans accuse the giants of technology of bias
Several Republicans have made accusations of anti-conservative prejudice on social media.
Republican MP Jim Sensenbrenner asked Mark Zuckerberg why Twitter removed a post from the son of the President of the United States, Donald Trump Jr, discussing the effectiveness of the drug hydroxychloroquine.
Twitter is not owned by Facebook.
“I think what you might be referring to happened on Twitter, so it’s hard for me to talk about it,” said Zuckerberg.
However, he added that Facebook has removed posts that could be directly harmful to people.
Republican MP Jim Jordan suggested that Google customize its features to help Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.
“You can assure us that you will not silence conservatives and … you will not configure your functionality [to favour] Joe Biden? “Asked Mr Jordan.
“You have my commitment. It has always been true and we will continue to behave in a neutral way,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon suggested that Jordan had pushed “marginal conspiracy theories”.
Jordan reacted furiously, saying, “We have the email – there were no marginal conspiracies.”
Subsequently, Republican representative Greg Steube was made fun of online for asking Mr. Pichai why his campaign emails were being marked as spam in Gmail.
4. Amazon dodges a “simple” question yes or no
Democratic MP Pramila Jayapal asked Jeff Bezos for a “yes or no” answer: has Amazon ever used the seller’s data to make their own decisions?
This was a reference to reports that Amazon used data collected from companies selling products through its site to design and evaluate its first-party competing products – something the company previously suggested had been limited to a group of unauthorized employees.
Bezos replies that he cannot give an answer in such simple terms.
“What I can tell you is that we have a policy against the use of vendor-specific data to help our private label business, but I can’t guarantee that this policy has never been violated,” he said.
No questions were asked to Mr Bezos for the first hour of the hearing and he was seen in the video call while eating a snack.
He got ginger near the end of the hearing, which may have been targeted at Mr. Zuckerberg.
“It seems to me that social media is a machine for destroying nuances and I don’t think this is useful for democracy,” said the founder of Amazon.
5. Google accused of working with China
Republican MP Matt Gaetz said Google is working with Chinese universities that take “millions and millions of dollars from the Chinese army” and noted that technology investor Peter Thiel had previously accused the company of “treason”.
Sundar Pichai denied that his employees were acting against American interests.
“We are not working with the Chinese military, it is absolutely untrue,” he said.
“What we do in China, compared to our peers, is very limited in nature. Our artificial intelligence work in China is limited to a handful of people working on open source projects.”
The four leaders were also asked a yes or no question by Republican Greg Steube: “Do you think the Chinese government is stealing technology from US companies?”
Only Mark Zuckerberg was ready to say that China had stolen American technology.
Tim Cook said, “I don’t know of any specific cases where we have been stolen by the government.”
Sundar Pichai replied: “I have no direct knowledge of any information stolen by Google in this regard.”
Mark Zuckerberg said: “I think it is well documented that the Chinese government steals technology from US companies.”
Jeff Bezos replied: “I haven’t seen it personally, but I’ve heard a lot of news.”