Jul 14, 2019

D.C. preps to grill Big Tech over monopoly questions

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) is the chair of the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A behind-the-scenes battle to shape Capitol Hill scrutiny of Big Tech's power will burst into public view this week in the most significant way yet.

Driving the news: Representatives of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple will face questions Tuesday from members of the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee as part of its investigation into their market power.

What we're hearing: The companies — all of which have briefed committee staff in the last month — are bringing antitrust heavy hitters to the hearing.

  • Google witness Adam Cohen has been a prominent part of its attempt to defang antitrust concerns in Europe.
  • Amazon's Nate Sutton is a veteran of the Justice Department's price-fixing case against Apple for allegedly conspiring with publishers to raise the price of ebooks.
  • What they're saying: An Apple spokesperson pointed Axios to its public website on the competition issue, while a Google spokesperson referred us to CEO Sundar Pichai's previous comments. Amazon and Facebook declined to comment.

Behind the scenes: Competitors and critics hoping to turn the heat up on the tech giants have been making the rounds in Washington.

  • Yelp chief executive and Google antagonist Jeremy Stoppelman took meetings on Capitol Hill last week.
  • Spotify, which is pursuing an antitrust case against Apple in Europe, has also been working Congress in advance of the hearing, according to two people familiar with its efforts.

The big picture: Numerous congressional committees and members are scrutinizing the major tech players, after several years of mounting criticism of the companies on different fronts.

  • Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) announced last week she'd be leading a tech task force for the Senate Judiciary Committee. She also met for more than half an hour last week with Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder who has called to break up the social giant.

What to watch: Whether the Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission pursue formal cases against any of the four companies testifying on Tuesday.

  • Yes, but: Even if they come to fruition, these cases can take years to develop.

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