Congress Continues Bipartisan Antitrust Probes
Source: France 24 News
The ongoing, bipartisan antitrust investigations into large tech companies resumed again in a highly anticipated hearing earlier this week.
Chaired by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law held another hearing on market competition in the digital tech industry. The four CEO witnesses included Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Apple's Tim Cook, and Google's Sundar Pichai. The subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and full committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH) also joined in on the questioning, which lasted three rounds and nearly five hours.
Republicans and Democrats grilled the CEOs on a wide variety of business practices that lawmakers considered problematic for fair competition. Chairman Cicilline pressed Mr. Pichai on the "very disturbing and very anti-competitive" web traffic surveillance that Google is suspected to be using for identifying competitive threats. Referencing past testimony by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford about Google's business dealings with the Chinese military, Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) expressed major concerns about the company's corporate values and allegiance. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) questioned whether Amazon is fully committed to stop collecting revenue from counterfeit products, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) challenged the witnesses about whistleblowers and video evidence that potentially contradict the executives' testimony.
While the ongoing investigations are bipartisan, Republicans and Democrats have often differed on why these probes are necessary. Democrats mainly raised questions on the business policies and overreaching technological tools that give large tech corporations a suspected lopsided advantage over others. Republicans often questioned how big companies can ensure that online platforms are fair to all users, especially in the wake of temporary bans on conservative accounts. The complex nature of antitrust law in the digital market has provided both sides with a bipartisan opportunity to consider sweeping legislation on big tech.
The COVID-19 era has been a boon for giant companies like Amazon. Amazon's online retail sales rose a whopping 49% year-over-year, revenue soared 40%, and stocks soared to almost record-highs and could reach $4000 in months. After the antitrust hearing, it was reported by CNET that Amazon's profit ballooned to $5.2 billion, which is an all-time high. These large numbers could only be the beginning.
While it is not clear how the U.S. government will exactly address the digital market competition, this hearing and these investigations show that lawmakers are serious about the power of big tech firms. Countless attorneys, hours of interviews and testimony, hundreds of thousands of documents, and mass expenditure will define these probes, regardless of the outcome. It is true that these big tech companies are not like IBM, which once had 70 percent market share in the 1960s and 1970s before facing a years-long antitrust battle with the Justice Department. But with the combination of big tech's sophisticated oligopolistic practices and a growing distrust of a few corporate behemoths, Congress and the rest of the U.S. government are facing major decisions on the future of an ever-evolving digital market economy.
Sherman Tylawsky is an Editor-at-Large for The National Times