Antitrust Hearing Targets Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google - Live Analysis

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Antitrust Hearing Targets Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google - Live Analysis

Post by jserraglio » Wed Jul 29, 2020 11:30 am

WALL STREET JOURNAL


Antitrust Hearing Targets Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google - Live Analysis

CEOs of tech giants Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google face questions Wednesday from members of Congress aiming to rein in what they believe is the companies' excessive power.
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Hearing Set to Start at 1 p.m. ET
The hearing was set to kick off at noon ET, but has been a bit delayed and is now expected to start at 1 p.m. We'll have live video and analysis once the hearing starts.
Big Tech: Highlights of the Journal’s Coverage
Not Zoom, not Hangouts, but WebEx for Remote Hearing
The format of the hearing could work in favor of the CEOs. First of all, the hearing will take place via videoconference due to the coronavirus. That could disrupt the questions and make it hard for lawmakers to create dramatic moments. (For curious readers: The committee is using Cisco Systems Inc.’s WebEx for the video.)
The CEOs are also testifying together, rather than individually, which could deflect pressure on any one witness. That’s not an accident – it was the subject of negotiations before the hearing, and the companies pushed hard for a joint interrogation.
One thing that works in the lawmakers’ favor: Unlike other hearings, this one comes after a year-long investigation in which they have acquired many documents from the companies, including the CEOs’ own emails. Look for lawmakers to cite them during questions to try to put the witnesses on the spot.
Ahead of Hearing, TikTok Fires Back at Facebook
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg made clear in his prepared remarks that one theme he is going to hit today is the threat from China -- a not-so-veiled reference to the rise of the popular video-sharing app TikTok.
This morning TikTok's new CEO Kevin Mayer fired back, criticizing Facebook's "copycat" efforts to match TikTok and saying many of the attacks on the company are "disguised as patriotism."
The post from Mr. Mayer, hired away from Disney in May, was also the most direct effort by the CEO to address the national-security and privacy concerns that some lawmakers have raised.
"For our skeptics, I am confident we have the answers and where we do not, we will improve," he wrote. "TikTok has become the latest target, but we are not the enemy."
Wide Range of Questions Expected for CEOs
The CEOs -- Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai -- will testify remotely, and will be questioned at the same time, rather than individually. They will face questions on the market power of their online platforms, but will likely get a range of other queries.
Democrats have generally been most critical of the market power of big technology companies, but some Republicans have also expressed concerns—including whether existing antitrust laws are outdated in the internet age. Despite the hearing’s topic, lawmakers can ask whatever they wish. Both parties have criticized how the companies regulate content on their platforms, with Republicans often charging censorship and many Democrats worried about foreign election interference.
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Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google will come under the glare of a national spotlight Wednesday, as their CEOs face questions from members of Congress aiming to rein in what they believe is excessive power in the hands of a few giant companies.
Tech Hearing Puts Spotlight on Democrat David Cicilline
While the spotlight at today’s hearing is squarely on the four tech executives, there’s also a lot of pressure on the lawmaker running the hearing, Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D., R.I.). Mr. Cicilline is a rising star among House Democrats, but faces tough adversaries today.
The four CEOs will be trying their best to shoot down Cicilline’s argument that their companies represent dangerous monopolies. The executives have had help preparing from squadrons of highly-paid lawyers and consultants. Mr. Cicilline has a few stars of his own on staff -- including Lina Khan, who wrote an influential Yale Law Journal article about Amazon a few years ago.
But the genial 59-year-old Mr. Cicilline, a policy wonk and former longtime mayor of Providence, knows that he’s in for a battle against the giant companies. “These are very powerful companies,” he said in an interview last week. “It’s fairly clear that with tremendous economic power often comes tremendous political power... . This is not easy work to do.”
At least part of Mr. Cicilline’s strategy will be to attack the companies over their impact on consumers, with the aim of swaying public opinion. “Part of the way we are going to be successful is making the case to the American people of why it’s important,” said Mr. Cicilline, who’s a leading messaging strategist for House Democrats. Also be prepared for some surprises, he hinted.
“There will be things that will be seen for the first time,” he said.
A Rare Test for Jeff Bezos
In recent years, Amazon's Jeff Bezos has granted few extended interviews to journalists and has seldom faced the kind of adversarial questions he is likely to get from lawmakers on the House Antitrust Subcommittee today. He is set to testify via videoconference alongside CEOs from Apple, Google parent Alphabet and Facebook.
Mr. Bezos, whose net worth has soared to almost $180 billion, has ruled Amazon unchallenged since founding the company more than a quarter-century ago. He has a reputation for being unyielding when holding a strong belief or challenging what he considers to be poorly considered ideas. But he is also known for staying on message. Former Amazon executives say they expect Mr. Bezos to prepare carefully and to maintain discipline in sharing several messages that have come up frequently in the company’s responses to scrutiny and criticism.
Read the full article.
Video Preview: What to Watch
The executives are expected to face questions about whether their companies have become too powerful and dominant. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports.
Meet the Witnesses
Here's a look at the line of questioning each CEO is likely to face:
Mark Zuckerberg
The Facebook CEO views the stakes for the hearing as high for Facebook and has been preparing with a tight circle of confidants and congressional experts. The social media giant faces multiple antitrust probes focusing in part on its acquisition of potential rivals. Mr. Zuckerberg is likely to face questions about the potential divestiture of prime assets Instagram and WhatsApp, as well as about the perception that Facebook lacks the ability to govern its massive platforms.
Jeff Bezos
The Amazon.com CEO, who rarely rarely sits for media interviews, will be making his first appearance before Congress. Amazon’s retail opponents have been lobbying lawmakers to ask Mr. Bezos about counterfeit products, competition with third-party sellers on the Amazon marketplace, and other issues. Look for the Amazon chief to counter a barrage of questions by emphasizing above all the company’s utility to consumers.
Tim Cook
Apple’s leader has sought to distinguish the company from its tech brethren. by emphasizing that its business model is less reliant on consumer’s personal data. The Justice Department is probing Apple’s App Store practices, people familiar with the matter have said. Rivals say the company acts anti-competitively in the popular store, extracting unfair payments and favoring its own products. Last week Apple promoted a study concluding the fees app developers pay are in line with those charged elsewhere.
Sundar Pichai
The antitrust probes into Google are the most advanced, with the Justice Department expected to file suit this summer. Investigators have focused on its dominance of online advertising and search, both topics likely to come up Wednesday. In his first appearance before Congress in late 2018, Mr. Pichai faced a barrage of unfriendly questions, particularly from Republicans, who view Silicon Valley-based Google as biased against conservatives. Republican lawmakers are likely to renew their criticisms.
Welcome to Our Live Coverage
The chief executives of Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are set to testify starting at noon in front of the House Judiciary Committee. The panel is investigating the companies' power over the digital marketplace. Our team of reporters will bring you the latest updates.
Host: John D. McKinnon
Apple: Tripp Mickle
Amazon: Sebastian Herrera
Alphabet/Google: Rob Copeland
Facebook: Jeff Horwitz
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