Who’s looking good so far
Although there's definitely a possible antitrust argument for each of the companies at the hearing, some are coming off stronger than others.
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We're about two hours into the hearing, and Jeff Bezos has had almost nothing to do. While Facebook, Apple and Google's CEOs have had to endure being drilled from members of both parties, Amazon's CEO has primarily sat with his Webex feed turned off, being asked only one question so far.
It's indicative of how the hearing has been going for all four companies. Although there's definitely a possible antitrust argument for each of the companies at the hearing, some are coming off stronger than others.
Rep. Jerry Nadler grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on whether he saw Instagram as a competitive threat before the company acquired it. In the world of sharing photos (which is, pretty much all you can do on Instagram), Zuckerberg said that it was. Nadler reminded him that buying a company to quash competition under FTC regulations is illegal.
Nadler: If you bought Instagram to neutralize a threat, why shouldn't we unwind the acquisition?
Zuckerberg, more or less: Remember Path? That was a cool app! Totally could've beaten Instagram.
— Protocol (@protocol) July 29, 2020
Rep. David Cicilline brought up a recent report by The Markup that showed, more often than not, that Google's top search results were Google's own products. CEO Sundar Pichai was also hounded about the lyrics the company allegedly lifted from the lyrics-archive website Genius for its own search results.
Rep. Hank Johnson took Apple CEO Tim Cook to task over the monopoly it has over what apps can be installed on the 100 million iPhone devices in the U.S., and the cut Apple takes from their developers.
Amazon so far has only had to answer one question, about its search feed. It's yet to have to answer for the fact that its AWS cloud services power so much of the web, nor that it has had reportedly investing in companies only to launch competing products itself, or that it's changed its search algorithms to boost its own products.
In every case, these companies have built ecosystems that are tough to break out of. More people use social media through Facebook properties than any other service in the world. Google is far and away the largest provider of search, video, and email services, and along with Facebook, effectively control the digital advertising market. If you want to work with Apple, you have to play by its rules, and pray it doesn't alter the deal any further. Amazon is well on the way to becoming the internet's "everything store," while owning some of the most important digital infrastructure online.
But some of these ecosystems are more exclusive than others. If you don't want to use Apple products, there are excellent alternatives for all of its products made by other companies — just be wary of the social stigma of green text bubbles. If you don't want to sell to or buy from Amazon, there's Walmart, Target and, to a degree, Shopify. For AWS, there's other major cloud providers (though a few of them are also on this hearing). For Google, your options are more limited — there's no search engine quite as dominant as Google, nor a video platform as broad as YouTube. But there are some other options — products like Firefox instead of Chrome, Bing (it's not bad!) or DuckDuckGo instead of Google Search, and even products like Helm if you don't want any tech company of any kind reading your email. For Facebook, you can try calling your friends or just texting them photos, but you won't have nearly the same reach as you would on Facebook or Instagram.
And then there's Twitter, which Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner seemed to have confused for Facebook. The microblogging site recently suspended Donald Trump Jr. for sharing a highly controversial video about COVID-19. Zuckerberg informed him that he was in fact thinking of Twitter, and not the company he runs. Twitter CEO Jack is probably enjoying not having to dial into this hearing with a bit of meditation.
Correction: This post was updated July 30 to correct Jerry Nadler's name.
Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.