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Head honchos at Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon to face questions from US politicians today

The tech giants are being investigated for alleged anti-competitive practices.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

THE CHIEF EXECUTIVES of four of the world’s biggest companies will give testimony today in the United States Congress as part of an investigation into anti-competitive practices and tech monopolies.

Tim Cook (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Sundar Pichai (Google) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) will all field questions via video link today from around 5 pm Irish time.

Today’s ‘evidentiary hearing’ is part of a 13-month investigation into whether the Big Tech giants are abusing their dominance and stymying competition in digital marketplaces.

On foot of today’s hearings in Washington, the 15-member House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee could recommend that legislation be drawn up to limit their powers.

All four companies have a unique set of alleged foibles.

Three of them — Apple, Amazon and Facebook — are the subject of ongoing European Commission investigations into anti-competitive practices. 

Facebook’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram are likely to be a major topic of discussion today.

Both social media platforms had been in competition with Facebook until they were bought by Zuckerberg’s Menlo Park-based company between 2012 and 2014 which has long been accused of gobbling up the competition in breach of US antitrust regulations.

Earlier this week, the tech company took legal action in the General Court of the EU against the Commission, which has requested that Facebook hand over millions of documents.

The company is arguing that the Commission’s search terms are too broad and risk endangering the privacy of Facebook employees. 

Prichai, the chief executive of Google parent Alphabet, will also give testimony.

He is likely to be questioned about allegations that the company is abusing its dominance in search and its alleged virtual monopoly in the $162.3 billion global market for online display advertising.

Google has, to date, been fined over €8 billion by the European Union over breaches of antitrust rules.

Apple chief Tim Cook — whose appearance before a US Senate hearing in 2013 prompted the European Commission’s investigation into his company’s Irish tax affairs — will also field questions this afternoon.

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The Cupertino-headquartered company has been the subject of a number of complaints by streaming services like Spotify that its policy of taking between a 15% and 30% cut of all subscriptions signed up to through its App Store puts a significant strain on their ability to compete, particularly against Apple’s own streaming apps.

Those complaints form the basis of the European Commission’s investigation and similar complaints will likely form the basis of questions from politicians today.

Finally, Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon — which announced 1,000 new Irish jobs earlier this week — will also be in the firing line today.

Although his company has gone from strength to strength during the pandemic, growing its market capitalisation by $600 billion and cementing Bezos’s status as the world’s richest man, Amazon has had a torrid time on the PR front.

In April, a French court ruled that the company wasn’t doing enough to protect workers at its warehouses from Covid-19 prompting Amazon to all but shut down its operations in the country for a month.

Last month, German Amazon logistics workers went on strike over a spate of infections. The company denied any wrongdoing and said it had spent $4 billion on protection measures for its global workforce.

Bezos will likely face questions today about workplace practices but also whether Amazon ‘spies’ on independent sellers that use the platform to help craft its own product offerings.

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