Explained: What is the antitrust trial against Big Tech in US?
The US Congress on Wednesday grilled the top bosses of the big four technology companies, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple and sought to know if and if they were stifling the competition from other smaller companies.
Technology companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple have been under the radar of governments in many countries for being big spenders and trying to steamroll competition by either buying them or pushing other vendors to avoid working with their competitors.
In June last year, the US Congress and an antitrust panel of the House Judiciary Committee began a probe into the nature and working of four biggest names in technology space. The panel collected documents and testimonies from workers of these firms and from rivals on whether the big four had in any way tried to push them out of the market using unfair means.
For example, the US Congress wanted to know from Apple if it had, in a bid to promote its own app which allows parents to limit the screen time for kids, thrown out a rival app on the pretense of it not being safe. Similarly, US senators asked the companies if they had not allowed other smaller players to make way into the digital payments space by citing the lack of one security feature or the other.
Search engine giant Google has often been asked about its dominance on the service, and whether it promotes its own products on its platform instead of rivals, even if the latter provides better service.
The hearing on Monday saw Amazon founder Jeff Bezos face the house panel for the first time. In his statement to the Congress, Bezos defended the company as American and said that they did not just hire “highly educated computer scientists and MBAs (Master of Business Administration) in Seattle and Silicon Valley” but also trained “hundreds of thousands of people in states across the country” for entry-level jobs.
On a specific question which sought to know whether Amazon had ever used seller data for its own benefit, Bezos said that though the company had a policy against the same, he could not guarantee that the policy had never been violated.
On the other hand Tim Cook, when grilled about why had some of the apps with features similar to those of Apple's apps, been booted out of the iOS store, took the privacy and security line and said that the company had worries about the data of small, underage kids being misused.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks via video conference during a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law on "Online Platforms and Market Power", in Washington. Reuters Photo
Google CEO Sundar Pichai made a commitment to the house panel that it will not tilt or skew the searches in favour of one candidate or another before the upcoming elections in November. Pichai also said that this had never been practiced at the company and the same would continue in future also.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose companies had bought Instagram and WhatsApp in some of the biggest deals in technology space, had been accused of using money power to outright buy competition and then push them aggressively against other competitors in the market.
Zuckerberg, however, said that the company had got clearances from the Federal Trade Commission. The that no one could have back in 2012, when his company bought Instagram for $1 billion, predicted that the app would become as big a platform as it has eight years later.
Beginning last year, the panel has talked to various employees working at these organisations, their rivals, and collected as many as 1.3 million documents from public hearings and such interviews.
Following the deposition by the top bosses of the big four, the House panel will take into account the statements made by them and then come out with a report on whether these companies had avoided all liability of following fair trade practices.
The house panel has also looked into the use of data by these companies and whether they had followed the sensitive data protection norms set in place by various states across the US.