Show an ad over header. AMP

House throws kitchen sink at tech CEOs

House lawmakers aired an enormous array of grievances with the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple Wednesday, throwing everything in their arsenal at four of the most powerful men in the world for six hours.

Quick take: The antitrust hearing didn't nail a case that these companies are harmful monopolies. But the representatives succeeded in wringing some surprising admissions from the executives about how they wield their market power, providing ammunition for regulators now conducting investigations — and possibly a spur for Congress to strengthen antitrust law for the digital era.

The big picture: Here's where the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee pressed each company hardest.

  • Facebook: Panel Democrats said the social network's acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp were plainly anticompetitive — that the company made the deals to stop Instagram from becoming a competitor to its main platform and WhatsApp from becoming a competitor to its messaging service. (CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook had no idea the two would become such juggernauts when it bought them.)
  • Google: Lawmakers homed in on the company's acquisition of DoubleClick in 2007 as the watershed moment when its dominance of search combined with power over the levers of online ad targeting.
  • Amazon faced tough questions about its role as both a massively successful online retailer and the proprietor of the biggest online marketplace for third-party sellers.
  • Apple took sustained heat for its power over the iPhone's App Store and the cut it takes from developers who sell digital products through their apps.
  • All the companies, subcommittee chair David Cicilline said, have become bottlenecks for distribution, using their chokehold over data to surveil potential competitors and their control over technologies to extend their power.

Yes, but: The CEOs dodged most of the bullets aimed at them.Amazon's Jeff Bezos, testifying for the first time before Congress, sustained the most damage.

  • Asked if Amazon has ever broken its rule against tapping specific third-party seller data to develop its own competing products, Bezos said he couldn't rule it out. He also acknowledged that the "aggregate data" Amazon does allow its employees to examine can come from as few as two or three marketplace sellers.
  • Asked if Amazon used data from companies that use its AWS cloud unit to develop competing products, Bezos first said he wasn't aware of the company doing so and then acknowledged it may learn things about AWS clients that it uses in product development.

The catch: Lawmakers repeatedly cited instances where the companies acted ruthlessly, but antitrust laws don't bar ruthless competition unless you're a proven monopolist.

  • Each of these companies wields enormous power. But antitrust enforcers at the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission won't be able to use the evidence the committee assembled to build an antitrust case unless they can also define markets and prove that these companies dominate them.
  • The antitrust panel did little on that front Wednesday. They raised no objections, for instance, as Zuckerberg and Apple's Tim Cook cited examples of intense competition they face in various lines of business.
  • They spent more time drilling down on the methods Facebook, Amazon and others used to develop copycat versions of other firms' products and apps.

Between the lines: Zuckerberg was quick to note that regulators at the time raised no objection to Facebook's acquisitions. That argument only underscored the deeper unspoken assumption behind the Democrats' attack.

  • Our existing system brought us to this point, they seemed to say, where a handful of private companies dictate the terms of how people talk, consume, work and play online. Time to change that system.

The other side: Panel Democrats like Reps. Pramila Jayapal, Joe Neguse and antitrust subcommittee chairman David Cicilline drove tough lines of evidence-based inquiry, and a couple of their Republican counterparts joined in. But most of the GOP representatives used their time to repeat the litany of charges of anti-conservative bias that they have been pressing in the Capitol for two years.

  • Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said "Big tech is out to get conservatives" and pressed the CEOs one by one to denounce "cancel culture."
  • Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) spent several minutes needling Google CEO Sundar Pichai on why Gmail is filing his campaign emails to supporters' and family members' spam folders.

Our thought bubble: Republicans normally provide the "hands off business" side of the antitrust argument, but their obsession with bias and "censorship" charges left that perspective with few advocates in this debate.

The high-wage jobs aren't coming back

Reproduced from Indeed; Chart: Axios Visuals

The pandemic has caught up with high-wage jobs.

The big picture: Early on, the pandemic walloped hiring across the wage spectrum and in every sector. Now, states have opened up, and the lower-wage retail and restaurant jobs have slowly come back — but higher-paying jobs are lagging behind.

Keep reading... Show less

The FDA plans to toughen coronavirus vaccine standards

The Food and Drug Administration plans to toughen the requirements for a coronavirus vaccine emergency authorization, which would make it more difficult for one to be ready by the election, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Why it matters: Public skepticism of an eventual vaccine keeps increasing as President Trump keeps making promises that are at odds with members of his own administration.

Keep reading... Show less

Wall Street fears meltdown over election and Supreme Court

The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and President Trump's vow to name her replacement to the Supreme Court before November's election are amplifying Wall Street's worries about major volatility and market losses ahead of and even after the election.

The big picture: The 2020 election is the most expensive event risk on record, per Bloomberg — with insurance bets on implied volatility six times their normal level, according to JPMorgan analysts. And it could take days or even weeks to count the record number of mail-in ballots and declare a winner.

Keep reading... Show less

Election clues to the country level

Ipsos and the University of Virginia's Center for Politics are out with an interactive U.S. map that goes down to the county level to track changes in public sentiment that could decide the presidential election.

How it works: The 2020 Political Atlas tracks President Trump's approval ratings, interest around the coronavirus, what's dominating social media and other measures, with polling updated daily — enhancing UVA's "Crystal Ball."

Keep reading... Show less

Trump pushes to expand ban against anti-racism training to federal contractors

President Trump announced late Tuesday that the White House attempt to halt federal agencies' anti-racism training would be expanded to block federal contractors from "promoting radical ideologies that divide Americans by race or sex."

Why it matters: The executive order appears to give the government the ability to cancel contracts if anti-racist or diversity trainings focused on sexual identity or gender are organized. The memo applies to executive departments and agencies, the U.S. military, federal contractors and federal grant recipients.

Keep reading... Show less

GoodRx prices IPO at $33 per share, valued at $12.7 billion

GoodRx, a price comparison app for prescription drugs at local pharmacies, on Tuesday raised $1.14 billion in its IPO, Axios has learned.

By the numbers: GoodRx priced its shares at $33 a piece, above its $24-$28 per share offering range, which will give it an initial market cap of around $12.7 billion.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Meadows puts agencies on notice about staff shake-up

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told administration officials Monday to expect senior aides to be replaced at many government agencies, according to an internal email obtained by Axios.

Behind the scenes: Meadows asked the director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office John McEntee "to look at replacing the White House Liaisons (WHLs) at many of your agencies," according to the email. "John will be working with outgoing liaisons to explore other opportunities."

Keep reading... Show less

White House ricin package suspect allegedly urged Trump to "give up for this election"

A Canadian woman allegedly mailed a letter addressed to President Trump containing the poison ricin and the threat "give up and remove your application for this election," court papers filed Tuesday show.

Driving the news: Pascale Cecile Veronique Ferrier, 53, was arrested trying to enter New York from Canada on Sunday. She appeared briefly in a Buffalo, N.Y., courtroom where a judge entered a not guilty plea on her behalf to the charge of threatening the president, per CBC.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories