As lawmakers grilled the heads of Amazon, Facebook and other online giants in an explosive congressional hearing on their power, Ohio Rep Jim Jordan charged Big Tech of tailoring their features against the conservatives in the upcoming election.
“I will just cut to the chase. Big Tech is out to get conservatives. That is not a suspicion, that is not a hunch — that is a fact,” Jordan said.
Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg were joined via videoconferencing due to the coronavirus on Capitol Hill for the antitrust hearing by Apple CEO Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google parent company Alphabet.
Most of the flak was caught by Pichai, who was frequently evasive.
Jordan said the online voices of conservatives, including President Donld Trump, have been silenced, while others have gone unchecked.
“We are 97 days before an election, and the power … these companies have to impact what happens during an election, what American citizens get to see before their voting, is pretty darn important,” he said.
Digging into Pichai later during the hearing, Jordan repeatedly demanded assurances that Google would not tailor their features to help Democrats in November.
“Can you assure Americans today you won’t tailor your features to help Joe Biden in the upcoming election?,” asked Jordan.
He also charged Google for a “silent donation” it made to the Hillary Clinton campaign in the 2016 election cycle.
Jordan got a commitment from Pichai of not tailoring Google’s features against the Conservatives after he repeated the question several times during his allotted five minutes.
In a striking show of unity, both the Democrats and the Republicans, breathed fire against the Big Tech, accusing them of developing a stranglehold on the internet and American life.
“Our founders would not bow before a king, nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy,” said Democratic Rhode Island Rep David Cicilline, in remarks that kicked off the 1 pm hearing.
He charged Google for “evolving from a turnstile to the rest of the Web, to a walled garden that increasingly keeps users within its sites.”
“It used its surveillance over Web traffic to identify competitive threats and crush them. It has dampened innovation and business growth … virtually ensuring that any business that wants to be found on the Web paid Google a tax,” Cicilline said.
The CEOs, whose companies make up $5 trillion of the US economy together, repulsed the claims of their dominance by saying they face intense competition.
“Every day, Amazon competes against large, established players like Target, Costco, Kroger and, of course, Walmart — a company more than twice Amazon’s size,” Amazon CEO Bezos said.
Zuckerberg labelled Facebook as an “American success story”, vying for a piece of the cake with the other companies represented.
Rep Pramila Jayapal alleged that Facebook practised browbeating promising tech competitors, like Instagram, into selling to Facebook.
“When the dominant platform threatens its potential rivals, that should not be a normal business practice,” said Jayapal.
“Facebook is a case study, in my opinion, in monopoly power, because your company harvests and monetizes our data, and then your company uses that data to spy on competitors and to copy, acquire and kill rivals. Facebook’s very model makes it impossible for new companies to flourish separately, and that harms our democracy, it harms mom-and-pop businesses and it harms consumers,” she said.
Apple has been accused of unfairly blocking apps that rival its in-house versions from appearing in App Store results, and has faced intense criticism for the 30 percent cut it takes from App Store purchases.
“I am here today because scrutiny is reasonable and appropriate. If Apple is a gatekeeper, what we have done is open the gate wider,” Cook said.
Before the hearing could start off, Trump tweeted that lawmakers must bring about change or he would do it himself.
“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 wrote. “In Washington, it has been ALL TALK and NO ACTION for years, and the people of our Country are sick and tired of it!”