What you actually need to know about the Big Tech anti-trust hearings
This week, the heads of Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook all faced the partisan firing squad commonly referred to as the United States Congress. The stated goal was to examine whether or not they need to administer anti-trust against Big Tech. That goal was kinda-sorta accomplished.
Here's what came out of the hearing that you probably need to know:
1. Amazon probably steals information from its sellers to use for their private label products.
Bezos was asked a simple yes or no question: Did Amazon ever use seller data to boost their private label business? His answer: "What I can tell you is we have a policy against using seller-specific data to aid our private-label business, but I can't guarantee you that that policy has never been violated." That sounds a lot like a guy that doesn't want to admit he's stealing but also doesn't want to perjure himself.
It's not the first accusation of poor practices against Amazon. They've been a routine target of controversy that's ranged from preventing companies from selling products to outright theft of design and marketing. This hearing was Bezos' chance to deny the allegations, under oath, and he couldn't.
2. Facebook bought Instagram because they were a threat.
This is a central example of why these hearings are happening. Tech giants routinely purchase smaller startups. For some startups, their entire business model revolves around getting acquired by a whale. The issue is whether or not that behavior violates laws designed to boost competition.
3. Political bias
Google and Facebook were both accused of political bias. One Republican senator asked Google if they were going to "configure your [Google's] features to favor Joe Biden?" Google's CEO promised they wouldn't. It may have been a pinky promise, so you know it's for real.
Another exemplary example of congressional leadership took the time that was paid for by the taxpayers to ask Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg why he deleted Donald Trump Jr's Tweets. Zuck's response was, "I think what you might be referring to happened on Twitter, so it's hard for me to speak to that." A classic Zuckerberg Zinger.
The theme here, clearly, is that Republicans believe tech leans liberal and don't trust them. A major problem for tech when half the legislative body doesn't have confidence in your ability to remain neutral. What does this have to do with anti-trust? Absolutely nothing.
4. Do you believe the Chinese government is stealing technology from US companies?
Tim Cook. "I don't know of specific cases where we have been stolen from by the government. I know of no case on ours where it occurred." Translation: We have plants in China, and I'd like to avoid insulting my landlord.
Sunder Pichai: "I have no first-hand knowledge of any information stolen from Google in this regard." Translation: We're still hoping to get inside the firewall.
Mark Zuckerberg: "I think it's well documented that the Chinese government steals technology from US companies." Translation: Tiktok is a threat, so I'd like to turn up the heat.
Jeff Bezos: "I haven't seen that personally, but I've heard many reports of it." Translation: *Cough* Alibaba *Cough*
The result, according to the chairman, is that these companies are a monopoly and need to be broken up. At the very least, they need to be regulated. How does the government plan on doing that? No clue. Side note: Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple stocks went up after the hearings. Ironic moment of the day: The questioning was delayed due to technical difficulties. You're interviewing the four biggest tech firms in the world, and you have technical problems.