Congress grills Big Tech over competition, money and powerJuly 17, 2019
Big Tech faced tough questions Tuesday as federal lawmakers focused on issues of potentially anticompetitive behavior by technology giants and expressed bipartisan skepticism over Facebook’s plan for a new digital currency.
Companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon have long enjoyed nearly unbridled growth and a mythic stature as once-scrappy startups — born in garages and a dorm room and a road trip across the United States — that grew up to dominate their rivals. But as they’ve grown more powerful, critics have also grown louder, questioning whether the companies stifle competition and innovation, and if their influence poses a danger to society.
Both Democrats and Republicans had grievances to air, even if there wasn’t much consensus on what to do about them.
An afternoon panel of the House Judiciary Committee focused on whether it’s time for Congress to rein in these companies, which are among the largest on Earth by several measures. Central to that case is whether their business practices run afoul of century-old laws originally designed to combat railroad and oil monopolies.
For some legislators, mostly Democrats, those laws are in need of updates or at least more stringent enforcement. Ultimately such action could lead to breaking up big online platforms, blocking future acquisitions or imposing other limits on their actions.
Subcommittee chairman David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, charged that technology giants had enjoyed “de facto immunity” thanks to current antitrust doctrine, which typically equates anticompetitive behavior with higher prices for consumers. That allowed them to expand without restraint and to gobble up potential competitors, he argued, creating a “startup kill zone” that prevents smaller companies from challenging incumbents with innovative services and technology.
A panel of four mid-level executives from the companies countered that their firms continue to innovate, that they face vigorous competition on all fronts — including from one another — and, perhaps most of all, that they were not monopolists in any way, shape or form.
Facebook, for instance, has argued that it is not a monopoly because it has many competitors in businesses as diverse as private messaging, photo sharing and online advertising.
So Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado asked Facebook’s head of global policy development, Matt Perault, to name the world’s largest social network by active users. (It is Facebook.) When Perault said he couldn’t, Neguse ticked off four of the six largest — Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp — and had Perault verify that all are owned by Facebook.
“We have a word for that and that word is monopoly, or at least monopoly power,” Neguse said.
The company representatives didn’t help their case by pleading ignorance on multiple occasions. Google’s director of economic policy, Adam Cohen, said he was “not familiar” with how much Google pays Apple for the…