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Tech hearing: Bezos, Zuckerberg, Cook and Pichai grilled by congress as Facebook CEO defends Twitter over Trump Jr ban

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Mark Zuckerberg defends Twitter's decision to suspend Donald Trump Jr account

The four biggest Silicon Valley tech CEOs were grilled by Congress for more than five hours as both Democrats and Republicans accused them of using their monopolies to crush market competitors and censor ideological opponents.

Google's Sundai Pichai, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Apple's Time Cook and Amazon's Jeff Bezos faced both pointed accusations and at times confused questioning from Representatives wading into thickets of privacy policies, advertising platforms and data algorithms.

Zuckerberg at one point found himself in the unlikely position of defending Twitter's decision to suspend Donald Trump's Jr's account after his company was confused for that of Jack Dorsey, who was not in attendance.

Bezos, meanwhile, was unable to deny an assertion that Amazon uses third-party seller data to advantage itself, a potential antitrust concern for the e-commerce company, but committed to sharing results of its internal investigation.

Cook defended Apple for removing competitors from the App Store even as customers were directed to Apple's own products as a replacement.

Pichai faced some of the toughest questions over Google's advertising practices, with the company accused of using "privacy" as a shield to withhold user data from competitors that it used itself to claim an advantage.

While Representatives across both political spectrums shared in their level of concerns at the size of the tech companies, Democrats tended to focus on anticompetitive conduct while Republicans leaned toward political censorship.

Zuckerberg was accused of lying to Congress after claiming he wasn't aware of anyone being fired for their political beliefs, while Pichai dodged questions about a 2016 video showing anti-Trump bias among senior leadership.

All of the CEO's, however, agreed that the emergence of cancel culture was a threat to democracy as the nuance destruction machine of social media empowered mobs in the "digital Thunderdome".

Please allow a moment for the live blog to load.

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Welcome to The Independent's live coverage of Big Tech's appearance before Congress later today.

The leaders of the world's biggest tech companies – Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google – will all be questioned by US politicians eager to delve into the ways that the size and power of the companies could be being unfairly wielded, among other issues.

Andrew Griffin29 July 2020 09:28
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The hearing begins at 12pm eastern time, or 5pm in the UK.

Andrew Griffin29 July 2020 09:28
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Tim Cook's full opening statement – which he will give when he appears later on – can be read here. He focuses mostly on the App Store (which is probably what the questioners will focus on with regards to him, too).

His argument is along the lines the other three are expected to take, too: that his company isn't actually all that big, is not dominant in every market, and that limiting it through regulation could mean it losing out to non-US companies.

Andrew Griffin29 July 2020 10:27
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He takes a similar tone to Tim Cook, and provides some similar arguments. But he leans a little more into the fact that Facebook's continuing success is not guaranteed. (He only mentions China in passing, but does stress the fact that Facebook is American, and the remarks are thought to relate to that.)

"I’ve long believed that the nature of our industry is that someday a product will replace Facebook," he concludes. "I want us to be the ones that build it, because if we don’t, someone else will."

Andrew Griffin29 July 2020 11:21
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Here's Google's Sundar Pichai. He doesn't spend quite so much time arguing that Google is not big, or that being big isn't such a bad thing – instead, his main argument is that Google is an American success story, and thereby implying that any regulation could undo that American success.

"We are commied to panering with lawmakers, including the members of this Commiee, to protect consumers, maintain America’s competitive technological edge in the world, and ensure that every American has access to the incredible oppounities that technology creates," he concludes.

Andrew Griffin29 July 2020 11:23
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He leans most keenly – or at least most poetically – into the patriotic, American line: in his concluding paragraphs, he says that "the rest of the world would love even the tiniest sip of the elixir we have here in the US". Much of that argument is made with reference to his own biography, talking about his mother's experience of having him young, and his dad's experience of moving to the US from Cuba.

Otherwise, his argument is much the same: actually, there's a lot more competition, and actually, people like using Amazon. But he also leans heavily into claims about the number of jobs being created by the company.

Andrew Griffin29 July 2020 11:27
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Here's the Associated Press's look ahead to what is likely to happen today, and the questions the CEOs are expected to face:

Four Big Tech CEOs — Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Sundar Pichai of Google and Tim Cook of Apple — are set to answer for their companies' practices before Congress as a House panel caps its yearlong investigation of market dominance in the industry.

The four command corporations with gold-plated brands, millions or even billions of customers, and a combined value greater than the entire German economy. One of them is the world's richest individual (Bezos); another is the fourth-ranked billionaire (Zuckerberg). Their industry has transformed society, linked people around the globe, mined and commercialized users' personal data, and infuriated critics on both the left and right over speech.

Critics question whether the companies, grown increasingly powerful after gobbling up scores of rivals, stifle competition and innovation, raise prices for consumers and pose a danger to society.

The four CEOs are testifying remotely for a hearing Wednesday by the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust.

In its bipartisan investigation, the panel collected testimony from mid-level executives of the four firms, competitors and legal experts, and pored over more than a million internal documents from the companies. A key question: whether existing competition policies and century-old antitrust laws are adequate for overseeing the tech giants, or if new legislation and enforcement funding is needed.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, has called the four companies monopolies, although he says breaking them up should be a last resort. While forced breakups may appear unlikely, the wide scrutiny of Big Tech points toward possible new restrictions on its power.

The companies face legal and political offensives on multiplying fronts, from Congress, the Trump administration, federal and state regulators and European watchdogs. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission have been investigating the four companies' practices.

Andrew Griffin29 July 2020 13:14
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And here's a preview from Reuters, too:

The CEOs of four of America's largest tech firms will testify before U.S. Congress on Wednesday in a hearing that promises a healthy dose of political theater, while also offering a window into the thinking of lawmakers trying to rein in Big Tech.

Facebook Inc's Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon.com Inc's Jeff Bezos, Alphabet Inc-owned Google's Sundar Pichai and Apple Inc's Tim Cook - who together represent about $5 trillion of the U.S. economy - are set to speak before the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel.

Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline has been looking in to allegations by critics that the companies have hurt competitors and consumers with their business practices and seemingly insatiable appetite for data.

The CEOs plan to defend themselves by saying they themselves face competition and by pushing back against claims they are dominant, which has led to fears the hearing will bring up little new information to hold the companies accountable in the long term.

The hearing marks the first time the four CEOs have appeared together before lawmakers, and will also be the first-ever appearance of Bezos before Congress.

"The hearing is less about substance and is designed to bring attention to Congressman Cicilline and the work the subcommittee has been doing for the past year," said Jesse Blumenthal, who leads technology and innovation at Stand Together, a group that sides with tech companies that have come under fire from lawmakers and regulators in Washington.

The hearing will also test U.S. lawmakers' ability to ask sharp, pointed questions that reflect an understanding of how Big Tech operates. Previous high-profile hearings involving tech companies have exposed the somewhat limited grasp of Washington politicians of how the internet and technology work.

It will also offer lawmakers from both parties a chance to bring up the topic of content censorship - an increasingly sore point for Republican lawmakers, who have repeatedly complained of anti-conservative bias at Big Tech companies.

A detailed report with antitrust allegations against the four tech platforms and recommendations on how to tame their market power could be released by late summer or early fall by the committee, which has separately amassed 1.3 million documents from the companies, senior committee aides said.

Andrew Griffin29 July 2020 13:23
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TikTok – which is not at today's hearing, but will undoubtedly be affected by what happens there, given how closely it competes with Facebook and its products – has posted a long essay about "fair competition and transparency". It doesn't make reference to the hearings today, but it is clear the context it has been posted in.

"TikTok has become the latest target, but we are not the enemy," CEO Kevin Mayer concludes. "The bigger move is to use this moment to drive deeper conversations around algorithms, transparency, and content moderation, and to develop stricter rules of the road. We are taking the first step of many to address these concerns, and call on the industry to follow our lead for the benefit of users and creators everywhere."

TikTok is likely to be the big spectre haunting today's hearings. Mark Zuckerberg's suggestion that limiting Facebook will allow for non-American companies to fill its place appears to be at least hinting at TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company Bytedance. Mr Mayer takes on those comments – as well as offering a little snark at Facebook's attempts to emulate TikTok's app.

"At TikTok we welcome competition," he writes. "We think fair competition makes all of us better. To those who wish to launch competitive products, we say bring it on. Facebook is even launching another copycat product, Reels (tied to Instagram), after their other copycat Lasso failed quickly. But let's focus our energies on fair and open competition in service of our consumers, rather than maligning attacks by our competitor – namely Facebook – disguised as patriotism and designed to put an end to our very presence in the US."

Andrew Griffin29 July 2020 13:48
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Business writer Andrew Ross Sorkin has written out the questions he'd ask to the CEOs, if he had the chance. They can be found here.

But his eternal point is that lawmakers should ask the CEOs questions about their fellow panelists, rather than their own companies.

They're very substantive. Previous tech hearings haven't been so substantive, getting drawn into grandstanding and opinionising. But there's reason to think this one might be a little more concrete in its questioning.

Andrew Griffin29 July 2020 15:38

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