Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google face claims of ‘harmful’ power

Tech CEOs

Image copyright
Getty Images/EPA/Reuters

Image caption

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai defended their firms

The heads of some of the world’s biggest tech companies have appeared before Washington lawmakers to defend their firms against claims they abuse their power to quash competitors.

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos said the world “needs large” firms, while the heads of Facebook, Apple and Google argued their companies had spurred innovation.

The appearance comes as lawmakers consider tougher regulation and competition probes are underway.

Some critics want the firms broken up.

  • Follow live updates of the congressional hearing

Congressman David Cicilline, a Democrat leading the congressional committee holding the hearing, said a year-long investigation by lawmakers had revealed patterns of abuse by the online platforms.

“The dominant platforms have wielded their power in destructive, harmful ways in order to expand,” he said.

What are the concerns about the tech giants?

Critics have said the tech companies abuse their power to benefit their own products, and undercut or acquire rivals, depressing competition – and ultimately hurting the wider economy.

They say regulators charged with enforcing competition rules – known as anti-trust law in the US – have been too lax.

At the hearing, many Republicans signalled they may not be prepared to split up the firms, with one committee member saying “big is not inherently bad”.

But they said they were concerned on other grounds, accusing the firms of suppressing conservative views.

“I’ll just cut to the chase – big tech is out to get conservatives,” said Congressman Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio.

At Wednesday’s hearing, much of the attention focused on Google, which lawmakers accused of having stolen content created by smaller firms, like Yelp, in order to keep users on their own website.

Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, Amazon’s treatment of sellers on its site and Apple’s App store also drew attention.

What do the companies say?

Appearing by remote video, the executives defended their companies, saying their products helped smaller businesses and rejecting the idea that their size allowed them to rest on their laurels.

“Scrutiny is reasonable and appropriate,” Apple boss Tim Cook said in prepared remarks. “But we make no concession on the facts.”

“It’s so competitive I would describe it as a street fight for market share in the smartphone business,” he later said.

In his prepared remarks, Mr Bezos said his firm faced significant competition from firms such as Walmart.

“I love garage entrepreneurs – I was one. But, just like the world needs small companies, it also needs large ones. There are things small companies simply can’t do,” he said.

What has Donald Trump said?

US President Donald Trump is a long-time critic of Amazon and threatened his own action on Twitter, writing: “If Congress doesn’t bring fairness to Big Tech, which they should have done years ago, I will do it myself with Executive Orders.”

He also told reporters that White House officials would be watching the hearing closely.

“There’s no question that what the big tech companies are doing is very bad,” he said.