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Tech giants defended their quasi-monopoly in front of US MPs

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Cupertino (California) / Seattle / Menlo Park - In the US Congress, a tough course against American technology giants is emerging, which can result in stricter rules to limit their market power. In a hearing that lasted more than five hours in a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans shot themselves at the heads of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

The hearing convinced him that these companies had "monopoly power" in their current form, said the chairman of the subcommittee on competition and business law, David Cicilline. "Some should be smashed, others should be properly regulated." Their control over the market allows them to suppress competition. "That must have an end." The subcommittee belonging to the Judiciary Committee will now prepare a report with recommendations.

Republicans suspect political reasons

Democrats and Republicans bother each other about different things. The questions posed by Democratic MPs mainly concerned allegations of unfair competition with competitors. Republicans on the committee, however, used the time to again denounce the fact that online companies suppressed conservative views. This is what US President Donald Trump has been saying over and over again. On Twitter, he threatened to take presidential decrees against the tech companies if Congress didn't crack down on them tough enough.

For example, Google boss Sundar Pichai was asked by MP Greg Steube why his campaign e-mails automatically ended up in the Gmail spam folder of his own father. The MP Jim Jordan demanded assurances from Pichai that the Internet company would not help the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Ignorant Bezos

In a question and answer session, the Democrats mainly took the founders and bosses of Facebook and Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, into the mangle. Bezos was showered with questions about whether Amazon used data from retailers who sell goods on the group's platform in order to compete with them with their own offers. The Amazon boss said that although there were internal regulations against it, he could not guarantee that they had never been violated.

In addition, Bezos could not rule out that stolen items were also sold on Amazon's platform. Overall, his answers showed how far he has detached himself from the day-to-day business of the world's largest online retailer. For example, Bezos did not know whether dealers who sell on Amazon's platform had to provide phone numbers.

Facebook admits

In the case of Facebook, the questioners focused on the takeover of the Instagram photo platform and the WhatsApp chat service. MP Joseph Neguse got Zuckerberg to say that Instagram and WhatsApp not only complemented the offerings of the online network, but were also competitors. This admission could possibly become relevant under competition law. For this purpose, a graphic from an internal Facebook presentation was faded in, which, based on figures from 2011, said that the online network accounted for 95 percent of social media revenues in the USA.

In comparison, Apple CEO Tim Cook received fewer hard questions. Above all, they revolved around whether Apple was discriminating against developers of competing apps in its download platform and asking too much information from app providers.

"Cyber ​​Barons"

The four top managers were connected to the hearing in Washington via video conference. The corona crisis left its mark on the appointment. The CEOs had to assure them that no employees were helping them behind the camera. The MPs had to wear masks outside of their speaking time. “Put on your mask!” They were warned several times. Bezos, however, made the same mistake as many home workers in the Corona crisis: When he answered an answer, he kept talking without deactivating the mute function.

Even before the first questions, it became clear that MPs are very critical of online companies. "Our founders did not bow to the king, nor should we bow to the emperors of the online economy," said the democratic politician Cicilline. Democrat Jamie Raskin spoke of the "robber barons" - the powerful and ruthless US capitalists of the 19th century - of "cyber barons". (APA, July 30, 2020)