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The House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, after a brief delay, is summoning Big Tech to explain itself Wednesday. Called to testify are the CEOs of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook.
Together, Sundar Pichai, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg oversee companies worth about $6.3 trillion. They didn’t get that way by being shy about crushing the competition. Remember Cuil? Quidsi? Palm? Path? Exactly.
If you’re the drinking type, pour a shot every time you hear a CEO talk about obsessing about customers, not competitors; worrying about Chinese competitors waiting in the wings; making a positive difference in society; and having pathetically small market share, really, if you just count it correctly.
Expect a lot of naive, time-wasting questions from our elected representatives. If you remember Zuckerberg’s four-hour House hearing in 2018, it wasn’t exactly a shining moment for Congress. (“You love America, we know that” was one memorable quote.)
If subcommittee members were serious, here’s what they’d ask:
Where do you get the data that informs your decisions to buy smaller tech companies? Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alphabet’s Google all have unique lenses into online activity, and the cloud infrastructure they are building just adds to their ability to surveil smaller rivals before they become real challengers. One clue Zuckerberg had about Instagram’s early hypergrowth was the number of photos users were posting from the startup’s mobile app to Facebook’s social network.
What tools do you have to retaliate against startups that refuse to sell to you? Amazon threatened a price war against Quidsi before buying it. After Twitter turned down a Facebook buyout offer, Facebook turned off access to its friends lists.
Do users have a reasonable way to extract their personal data and share it with competitors? Most big tech companies offer some kind of way to export user data. That doesn’t mean it’s useful.
How do you restrain entrepreneurs who sell their startups to you from starting new competitive ventures? The best way Silicon Valley has of self-regulating against would-be monopolists is its ability to churn out new startups. Noncompete agreements prevent that from happening.
I don’t expect any of these topics to come up at the Wednesday hearing, because posturing and lecturing is a lot easier. But in between shots, there might be room for hope.
— Owen Thomas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Quote of the week
“Hopefully they’ll look to the facts, understand the values of the people that they’re thinking about and understand that we’re in this together.” — Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, speaking to CNBC on the prospects for public acceptance of a coronavirus vaccine
From Capitol Hill to Wall Street: Apple, Facebook and Alphabet report earnings Thursday, the day after their CEOs wrap up their congressional testimony.
What I’m reading
Dana Mattoli and Cara Lombardo on Amazon’s habit of competing with startups it invests in. (Wall Street Journal)
Roland Li on Google’s long-term work-from-home plans. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Teddy Schleifer on Peter Thiel’s latest political backing of restrictions on immigration. (Recode)