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House lawmakers grill tech CEOs over possible anti-competitive practices

Correction: We erroneously reported the valuation of Google's parent company, Alphabet, in this piece. Alphabet is currently valued at around $1 trillion.

Leaders of four tech giants testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday, with lawmakers grilling them about whether they are too dominant. The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google appeared by video at a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, which has been investigating the companies for more than a year over possible unfair practices toward their competition. Amna Nawaz reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The leaders of some of the most powerful tech and social media companies got a grilling today from Democrats and Republicans alike.

    Together, their devices, platforms and innovations are a part of our everyday lives. The companies are valued at nearly $5 trillion. And they generate hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue. They employ significant numbers of workers. And they include two of the world's richest people.

    But, as Amna Nawaz reports, concerns over their practices and their unrivaled power are growing on the part of many lawmakers.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Appearing virtually before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, the titans of tech, leaders from Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple, answered accusations that they're too big and too powerful.

  • Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.:

    Many of the practices used by these companies have harmful economic effects. They discourage entrepreneurship, destroy jobs, hike costs, and degrade quality. Simply put, they have too much power.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amazon faces questions over giving its own products an advantage on its massive online marketplace. Apple is accused of making it harder for app store rivals to compete. Facebook is criticized for acquiring potential rivals, like WhatsApp and Instagram, and Google has been alleged to use its search and advertising systems to squash its competition.

    Today marked the first time Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has appeared before Congress. Bezos founded Amazon in 1994. Today, it's worth more than $1.5 trillion and accounts for 38 percent of all online retail sales in the U.S.

    He defended that growth today:

  • Jeff Bezos:

    We compete against large established players like Target, Costco, Kroger, and, of course, Walmart, a company more than twice Amazon's size.

    Twenty years ago, we made the decision to invite other sellers to sell in our store, to share the same valuable real estate we spent billions to build, market and maintain.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tim Cook took over at Apple in 2011. Today, it's the most valuable company in the world, at $1.6 trillion. In the hearing, Cook portrayed his massive company as an underdog.

  • Tim Cook:

    Our goal is the best, not the most. In fact, we don't have a dominant market share in any market or in any product category where we do business.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mark Zuckerberg founded the social networking site Facebook in 2004. Today, more than three billion people use Facebook-owned platforms at least once a month, and it's worth $665 billion.

    Zuckerberg today called the growth of apps like Instagram an American success story.

  • Mark Zuckerberg:

    It was not a guarantee that Instagram was going to succeed. The acquisition has done wildly well, largely because, not of the founders' talent, but because we invested heavily in building up the infrastructure and promoting it and working on security and working on a lot of things around us.

    And I think that this has been an American success story.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Sundar Pichai has led Alphabet and Google since 2015. Every day, 90 percent of online searches happen on Google. The company is valued at $1.5 billion.

    He pushed back on questions about Google's search engine blocking competitors.

  • Sundar Pichai:

    We have always focused on providing users the most relevant information. We rely on the trust for users to come back to Google everyday.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For more than a year, the committee has investigated the companies through more than a million documents and hundreds of hours of interviews.

    Washington State Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal cited one of those interviews in a question to Bezos.

  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash:

    A former Amazon employee in third-party sales and recruitment told this committee — quote — "There's a rule, but there's nobody enforcing or spot-checking. They just say, don't help yourself to the data. It's a candy shop. Everyone can have access to anything they want."

    Do category managers have access to non-public data about third-party products and businesses?

  • Jeff Bezos:

    Here's what I can tell you. We do have certain safeguards in place. We train people on the policy. We expect people to follow that policy, the same way we would any other. It's a voluntary policy. As far as I'm aware, no other retailer limits their use of data at all.

  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal:

    So, there's no actual — there's no actual enforcement? There's no actual enforcement of that policy?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And while the hearing's stated purpose was antitrust…

  • Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio:

    I will just cut to the chase: Big tech's out to get conservatives. That's not a suspicion. That's not a hunch. That's a fact.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … some Republicans on the panel focused on what they call censorship of conservatives by big tech.

    Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin:

  • Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.:

    Conservatives are consumers too. And the way the Net was put together, in the eyes of Congress, is that everybody should be able to speak their mind.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Zuckerberg pushed back:

  • Mark Zuckerberg:

    Frankly, I think that we have distinguished ourselves as one of the companies that defends free expression the most. We do have community standards around things that you can and cannot say.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    While, on the other side of the aisle, Congressman Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, asked what platforms are doing to combat hate speech and election meddling.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md:

    Is there nothing that can be done about the use of Facebook to engender social division in America?

  • Mark Zuckerberg:

    Since 2016, there have been a lot of steps that we have taken to protect the integrity of elections. We have hired, I think it's more than 30,000 people to work on safety and security.

    We have built up A.I. systems to be able to find harmful content, including being able to find more than 50 different networks of coordinated inauthentic behavior, basically nation states trying to interfere in elections.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Still, there was bipartisan concern the four tech giants are exerting too much influence.

  • Rep Ken Buck, R-Colo.:

    I'm concerned that you have used Amazon's dominant market position to unfairly harm competition.

  • Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla.:

    Google buys up companies for the purpose of surveilling Americans. And because of Google's dominance, users have no choice but to surrender.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And without action from Congress, that influence is unlikely to wane.

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