Jul 22, 2020 - Technology

The one big thing each tech CEO will tell Congress

Illustration of an app icon with the U.S. Capitol building, with an "x" button in the top left corner.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The big four tech CEOs testifying at Monday's antitrust hearing will each offer up a key point to defend their firms and deflect lawmakers' wrath.

Why it matters: No corporate leader wants to see their industry heavily regulated or their company broken up. Monday's hearing gives Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai a big platform to try to prevent that from happening.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: Congress should pass better laws. Let's work together and do that!

  • Zuckerberg will likely argue that it's Congress's job to write laws to bolster election security and establish consistent nationwide online privacy standards.
  • Facebook's goal is to see such laws written carefully and applied consistently.
  • He'll also point to progress Facebook has made in cracking down on misinformation and hate speech.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai: We won search by doing it well — why punish us for that?

  • Google doesn't dispute its clear dominance in search, nor of certain corners of the online advertising market.
  • But it has long maintained in both cases that this is just a natural outgrowth of delivering value.
  • It contends that digital advertising is in fact wildly competitive and that each individual advertising-technology service it offers faces a raft of rivals.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: We're big because we've always given users what they want — fast delivery, wide selection and good prices.

  • Bezos is likely to point to Amazon's ability to get goods to Americans' homes during the pandemic as a public service.
  • He will also need to defend the company against criticism of how it runs its third-party marketplace.
  • In the past, Amazon has softened some of its marketplace terms and denied reports that it uses third-party sales data to develop its own competing products.

Apple CEO Tim Cook: Our App Store creates opportunity for countless developers — and Google's Android controls more of the smartphone market, anyway.

  • Apple has faced criticism for the way it develops and features its own apps that compete with third-party programs, as well as for the commissions it takes from app makers.
  • The company says its tightly controlled approach keeps iPhone apps safe, maintains their quality, and protects users' privacy.
  • Expect Cook to cite the size and vitality of the app market and the continued enthusiasm of Apple's customers.

One wild card: China. All four companies have loudly or quietly warned that the U.S. shouldn't over-regulate its big tech firms because the nation needs them to be big and strong to counter threats from China.

  • But China is also at the heart of Apple's supply chains and a key consumer market for the company.
  • Google and Facebook have also flirted in the past with trying to crack the Chinese market.

Between the lines: Many of the loudest and most potent lines of attack on tech — like the idea, promoted by President Trump and other Republicans, that it's stifling conservatives — can be countered with facts, but they're too politically useful to simply be dropped.

The bottom line: The CEOs will get a chance Monday to rebut criticisms, argue that they're a net good for the nation, and tell lawmakers directly that antitrust enforcement is the wrong remedy for their ills.

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