Top executives from four big tech companies – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – were introduced to Congress on Wednesday; each accused of being an online monopoly which may require government action.
Mathematics, as the $ 26 trillion national debt suggests, isn’t exactly Congress’ strong suit.
One thing Congress is good enough, however, is putting on a show – and Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing was more about drama than serious consideration of the use of antitrust law. Perhaps this is because it is somewhat ridiculous to assert with a straight face that Google or Amazon are in fact monopolies, or because it is quite obvious that consumers who don’t like Apple or Facebook products are perfectly free to give their time, money and business to competitors. the Web.
If lawmakers were serious about applying antitrust powers to big tech companies, they must demonstrate that consumers are actively harmed through anti-competitive behavior. Instead, it quickly became clear that the real focus of the hearing was political power.
“I’ll get right to the point: Big Tech is looking to get Tories,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the top member of the House Judiciary Committee. He accused Amazon, Google and Facebook (and Twitter, which wasn’t even represented at Wednesday’s hearing) of taking political action he didn’t like. “The power these companies have to impact what happens during an election, what American citizens see before they vote is damn important,” he said. “That’s why this committee hearing is important.”
This review went both ways. Shortly thereafter, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Who referred to the four CEOs as “cyber barons” at one point, to complain about Facebook is supposed to help Republicans win the election.
It’s almost as if supporters are using the threat of antitrust action to try to force tech companies to take sides. It is important to note that antitrust laws do not allow Congress to dissolve a business because some lawmakers disagree with its policy.
But the show of clowns masquerading as a serious investigation was only just beginning. Allowed five minutes to interview some of the county’s most prominent CEOs, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) Instead chose to fight with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg over whether Donald Trump Jr. tweets on the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine had been wrongly withdrawn.
“I think you may be referring to what happened on Twitter,” Zuckerberg noted.
One of the few lawmakers who attempted to pretend Wednesday’s case was about antitrust laws rather than airing random grievances was Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the committee chair. In his opening remarks, Nadler compared the market share and influence of the four technology companies to those of the railways and other heavy industries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“It is indeed impossible to use the Internet,” Nadler said, without relying on the services provided by one of the “big four” companies presented to the committee.
The analogy is bad. If you were a farmer in a small town in Ohio in 1897 and there was only one railroad serving the town, you were sort of at the mercy of the railroad – and whatever the prices or services it offered. This is not how the Internet works at all. On the contrary, the marketplace created by Amazon or the “app store” created by Apple have increased competition online by providing millions of small businesses and web developers with a place to sell their digital products.
And once you look beyond the digital world, it becomes even more obvious that the antitrust argument against Big Tech is hollow. Amazon doesn’t just compete with Google for online advertising revenue, it competes with everything from bookstores to grocery stores in the real world. Facebook not only competes with other social networks, but its messaging service competes with telecommunications companies. Apple is not the only one, or even the biggest, manufacturer of smartphones in the world.
The Congressional case against the “big four” tech companies is so fragile it’s no wonder lawmakers wasted everyone’s time on Wednesday by speculate at random on Google’s links to the Chinese military, accusing Facebook of not doing enough to fight hate speech, Where complaining about business algorithms. Representative Greg Steube (R-Fla.), For example, complained that Gmail, Google’s email application, classifies his campaign emails in the “spam” folder. This is the kind of serious issue that Wednesday’s hearing faced.
On the rare occasions when more serious issues have arisen, they rarely had anything to do with antitrust law. Raskin, for example, complained that Amazon sometimes puts its own products on sale to undermine its competitors – a common business practice and one that by definition would not occur in a monopoly market. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have referred to Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, once a major competitor, as if this was proof that Zuckerberg’s business was a monopoly.
Tech companies shouldn’t be immune to criticism, of course, and this is especially true if they’re boosting or suppressing particular companies or viewpoints. But these are not antitrust issues at all, and in most cases, they are not issues that require government action at all.
Indeed, the fact that Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google have been successful is an indication that consumers are finding value in these businesses. Apple CEO Tim Cook noted that customers give the iPhone a 99% satisfaction rate. What was the last government program to be almost as popular?
More importantly for the antitrust argument, Cook pointed out that Apple created the first “app store” and allows most developers to list their apps for free. “If Apple is a gatekeeper, what we’ve done is open the door wider,” he said.
“You gain confidence slowly, over time, by doing the tough things right,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in his opening statement. “And by making principled decisions, even when they’re unpopular.”
Instead of trying to dismantle big tech companies for specious antitrust motives, perhaps Congress should learn from it.