The GAFA crush their competitors and democracy, hammered the Democrats; the GAFA censor us, stormed the Republicans: the American elected officials gave free rein on Wednesday, for 5 hours, to years of frustration vis-a-vis the sprawling companies that dominate the global internet.
Sundar Pichai (Alphabet, parent company of Google), Tim Cook (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon), were heard by videoconference by the Judicial Committee of the House of Representatives in Washington, which has since been investigating one year on possible abuse of a dominant position.
“They have too much power,” said David Cicilline, chairman of the subcommittee on competition. And “they will certainly emerge (from the pandemic) even stronger and more powerful than before.”
“If Congress does not force the Big Techs to be fair, which they should have done years ago, I will do it myself with decrees”, threatened Donald Trump before the start of the meeting.
Democratic members have mainly focused on the business model of the tech giants.
They have attempted to prove that these groups use the mountains of personal data at their disposal and competitor acquisitions to illegally prevent any competitor from emerging, to the detriment of consumers, citizens, innovation and democracy.
“Google has become the portal to the internet and is abusing its power,” Cicillin argued after a series of questions to Sundar Pichai. “It has become a fenced garden, (…) which virtually ensures that any business that wants to be found online has to pay a tax to Google.”
– “Candy shop” –
Jerry Nadler, chairman of the commission, for his part attacked Mark Zuckerberg in the area of acquisitions. “Facebook saw Instagram as a threat (…), so (…) they bought them,” he accused.
Jeff Bezos, whose first appearance before a parliamentary committee, was also taken for his rank. “Amazon is only interested in exploiting its monopoly on online sales,” Cicillin said. “Its dual role of host and merchant on the same platform is fundamentally anti-competitive. Congress must take action.”
To support this point, the elected Pramila Jayapal quoted a former Amazon employee: “(the chefs) are just telling us: + do not use the data. + But it’s a real candy store, everyone has access to whatever he wants “.
Tim Cook was asked about the same subject – his quality as a judge and part on his application platform, the app store – but was relatively spared compared to other groups.
– “Hunt for conservatives” –
On the Republicans’ side, Greg Steube questioned Sundar Pichai about his campaign emails which “always arrive in spam folders”, according to him, a sign of a plot against the conservatives.
With less than 100 days of elections, many questions focused on social networks and their relationship to freedom of expression.
“The Big Techs have opened up the hunt for conservatives, that’s a fact,” said Jim Jordan, one of Donald Trump’s close allies, saying that the platforms were doing everything to silence Republicans.
He also accused Google of being an ally of China (the search engine has not been accessible there for 20 years) and tried to get the group’s boss to promise that his services “would not be tailored to help. Joe Biden (the Democratic candidate) to win the 2020 “presidential election.
On competition, several of the Republican members of the commission believe anyway that being “great” is not a defect, and can even be used to “do good”.
– Happy ending ? –
Combined, GAFAs are worth around $ 4.780 billion on the stock market. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are among the top 5 richest men in the world.
Their bosses had few opportunities to respond to the accusations, except during their opening remarks, where they praised their American “success stories” to appeal to the patriotic fiber of elected officials.
They highlighted their contribution to growth, their investments, job creation in the United States, and assured to promote competition while facing fierce competition.
Not enough to convince Mr. Cicilline: “These companies have a monopoly. Some must be split, others must be regulated and made responsible for their actions”, he concluded.
The judicial commission has been investigating possible abuses of a dominant position for months, but the hearing is unlikely to have major consequences, if not, perhaps, to prepare new laws that are more restrictive for the platforms. digital.