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Here are the questions Congress should ask Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google at today’s antitrust hearing

As a few tech giants increasingly dominate their respective sectors, there’s a growing bipartisan consensus that their size and reach raises major concerns when it comes to competition, privacy, and free expression.

Here are the questions Congress should ask Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google at today’s antitrust hearing
[Photos: Andrew Van Huss/Wikimedia Commons; Flickr users Nguyen Hung Vu; Anthony Quintano; Austin Community College; Austin Community College]

Amazon bought Whole Foods, and prices scarcely went down (per a new study). Spotify claims that Apple’s 30% “App Store tax” makes it hard to compete with Apple Music. Facebook’s two-billion-plus membership, plus its ownership of Instagram and WhatsApp, leave few alternatives for people (rightfully) worried about privacy. It also keeps them in a (potentially biased) news bubble, as does Google’s nearly 100% control of search (not to mention dominance of video via YouTube).

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Silicon Valley has brought us a lot of wonderful things that bring people closer together. But as a few behemoths have come to dominate their respective sectors, the benefits may be diminishing, and startups that could provide something even better are getting squashed. Plus, aggressive data vacuuming makes personal privacy a quaint relic of the past.

Those are some of the main fears about big tech these days, around which there is a rare bipartisan consensus (with subcommittee members ranging from progressive Pramila Jayapal of Washington State to Trump booster Matt Gaetz of Florida). That’s why Tuesday’s congressional hearings with Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (which you can watch, ironically, on YouTube, at 3 p.m. eastern) could be so revealing. Even without celebrity CEOs like Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg, a grilling by lawmakers as well as insights from critics in the worlds of academia and nonprofits could still produce fireworks.

The House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee will offer both Democrats and Republicans a chance to push big tech on how it’s impacting consumers and competing businesses. In that spirit, we polled conservative, liberal, and neutral experts for suggestions on what questions would most challenge these companies. (Thanks to Ernesto Falcon at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Harvard University fellow Mutale Nkonde, James Pethokoukis at the American Enterprise Institute, Ryan Radia at Lincoln Network, and Dimitri Sirota at BigID).

Top questions to ask

Amazon

  • Doesn’t a company that sells things and owns the platform where things are sold have an inherent advantage over other sellers? (Pethokoukis)
  • How are you allowing competition in the marketplace if small sellers have to pay to get a favorable website listing? (Nkonde)
  • How can other merchants compete if you can use your sourcing power to develop your own versions of best-selling products? (Nkonde)

Apple

Are you leveraging your dominant position in the smartphone market to rake in unearned profits via the sale of apps through the App Store? (Pethokoukis)

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Facebook

  • Wouldn’t you be more attentive to privacy issues if you didn’t own your main competitors? (Pethokoukis)
  • What alternatives do users have if they aren’t happy with Facebook’s privacy or security practices? (Falcon)
  • To what extent do you and Twitter compete in social media? (Radia)

Google

  • Don’t you consistently favor your own properties in search results, especially at the top? (Pethokoukis)
  • Do Amazon or Twitter compete with you in web searches? (Radia)

All Companies

  • How can you guarantee a level playing field for small retailers and app developers on your platforms, such as Amazon Storefronts, AWS, Apple App Store, Facebook Marketplace, and Google Play Store? (Radia)
  • Doesn’t your buying up so many smaller companies hurt competition and innovation in the marketplace? (Falcon)
  • Since you are private companies and are not subject to the First Amendment, how does your dominance as platforms affect our freedom of expression? (Falcon)
  • How are you protecting the data privacy rights of all consumers? (Sirota)

Who will be there?

Here’s the list of witnesses so far confirmed for the hearing:

  • Amazon: Nate Sutton, associate general counsel
  • Apple: Kyle Andeer, chief compliance officer
  • Facebook: Matt Perault, head of global policy development
  • Google: Adam Cohen, director of economic policy
  • Columbia University: Tim Wu, professor of law, science and technology
  • Yale University: Fiona Scott Morton, professor of economics
  • Institute for Local Self-Reliance: Stacy Mitchell, codirector
  • Baker Botts law firm: Maureen Ohlhausen, partner


This article has been updated with the revised time for the hearing.

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About the author

Sean Captain is a Bay Area technology, science, and policy journalist. Follow him on Twitter @seancaptain.

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