On Wednesday, the CEOs of Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook will testify before House lawmakers over allegations of anticompetitive practices. For members of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, it will be their sixth hearing in their investigation into Silicon Valley antitrust accusations.
As Politico notes, "The session also arrives as scrutiny of the behemoths is surging across the globe, including an expected Justice Department antitrust case against Google and the recent launch of two European probes of potential anticompetitive behavior by Apple."
It will also mark the first time Jeff Bezos, the world's richest person, has offered testimony before Congress - albeit via videoconference, while House Judiciary lawmakers will attend both virtually and in-person in a hybrid format, according to the report.
That said, tomorrow's 'showdown' could go one of two ways; fireworks, or snoozefest. If House Democrats jump off script from antitrust issues and press the CEOs over online hate speech, or if GOP members drill them on anti-conservative bias, things could get interesting.
Even the format of the questioning — four elite CEOs, all appearing by videoconference because of the coronavirus pandemic — could make it harder for the members to land a glove on the companies’ varied issues, ranging from Google's and Facebook’s command of digital ad revenue to Apple's control of its App Store and questions about whether Amazon misled Congress. -Politico
"The discussion will go well beyond antitrust," said Carl Szabo, VP and General Counsel of NetChoice, a tech trade group which counts Google, Amazon and Facebook as members. "It will go into issues of election interference, or conservative bias, or any of the other issues de jour on which we like to saddle tech."
Here's what to expect assuming things go according to plan:
Lawmakers will likely question Bezos about whether an Amazon lawyer misled the Judiciary Committee last summer by claiming the company doesn't use data collected from third-party vendors to launch competing products of its own.
In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, Amazon employees did just that - which prompted Judiciary leaders to question whether a criminal referral was appropriate for perjury charges. The company disputed WSJ's report, and said it did not 'intentionally mislead' the Committee - while also promising to conduct an internal investigation.
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg will likely face questions over acquisitions of former rivals WhatsApp and Instagram, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and others have called for regulators to break up the social media giant.
Other items of inquiry will include how Facebook handles its trove of data collected from more than 2 billion users, including whether it is for anticompetitive purposes.
"There's a real fear that no other competitor could ever successfully launch a social media platform because it could never match Facebook's troves of data, which, given their record, it's a serious threat to users," Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) told Politico.
Google's Sundar Pichai will have to answer for whether the company amplifies its own search services to the detriment of competitors and consumers seeking maps, videos or other services.
Separately, questions will be asked over whether their domination of online advertising has harmed smaller businesses as well as news outlets.
The committee has also accused the company of being less than forthright in its past testimony, including on questions such as what percentage of searches on the company's engine lead to website referrals not on Google.
Google has separately been a frequent target of Republican allegations of anti-conservative bias on its video sharing platform YouTube, a topic that is expected to come up again at Monday's hearing. Google and other major tech platforms deny those charges. Democrats, meanwhile, have taken issue with the company's handling of hate speech and misinformation on YouTube. -Politico
Lastly, Apple CEO Tim Cook will face questions over how the company has handled its app store.
"Because of the market power that Apple has, it is charging exorbitant rents — highway robbery, basically — bullying people to pay 30 percent or denying access to their market," Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) told The Verge in June. "It’s crushing small developers who simply can’t survive with those kinds of payments. If there were real competition in this marketplace, this wouldn’t happen."