5 Top Global Technology Giants Photo: Market Watch

Antitrust Laws: How 4 Global tech giants defend business practices in Congress

*Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Apple, Facebook’s Chief Executive Officers testify before US House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Sub-Committee over competition

*Legislators say tech companies are ‘too big and powerful’, accuse them of wielding influence in ‘destructive, harmful ways in order to expand’

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

The United States (US) Congress has said that consumers have increased their reliance on large technology companies over the last decade, and the reliance has been even greater during the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Interrogation of the tech giants said to be part of a probe into the competitive market landscape and antitrust law, and related areas, as hate speech and content moderation, economic inequality, privacy and data protection and even claims of political “bias” from President Donald Trump and his allies.

ConsumerConnect reports that many lawmakers in both dominant parties in the US Congress are worried that these tech companies are “too big and powerful”.

The Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Apple, and Facebook Wednesday, July 29, 2020, appeared to testify before the House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Sub-Committee to answer pointed questions from lawmakers.

It was learnt that the company executives had testified before Congress in the past about privacy issues.

Nonetheless, Wednesday’s questioning focused mostly on the expanding role these firms have in consumers’ lives and whether that role has simply got too big in recent times.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Chairman of Sub-Committee, said of the engagement with the tech company CEOs: “Our founders would not bow before a king. Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy…. Simply put, they have too much power.

“Whether it’s through self-preferencing, predatory pricing, or requiring users to buy additional products, the dominant platforms have wielded their power in destructive, harmful ways in order to expand.”

Cicilline further stated that “prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, these corporations already stood out as titans in our economy.

“In the wake of COVID-19, however, they are likely to emerge stronger and more powerful than ever before.”

Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, however, who countered his colleagues’ suggestion, struck a more moderate tone, saying, “being big is not inherently bad.

“Quite the opposite, in America you should be rewarded for success.”

Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg all defended their respective business practices, and all declared that they have plenty of competition in the marketplace.

Referencing internal documents, the legislators, armed with background research, contended that the various companies’ internal documents sometimes tell a different story.

The lawmakers particularly challenged Zuckerberg on Facebook’s acquisition of rival Instagram, which is favoured by younger consumers.

According to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y) cited an e-mail in which Zuckerberg described Instagram as a threat to Facebook’s growth before his company bought it in 2012. Nadler said that was a good example of an “anti-competitive acquisition” that antitrust laws were supposed to prevent.

But Zuckerberg replied that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) during the Barack Obama administration had access to that document when it gave its approval to the acquisition.

Likewise, Google was accused of holding too much power to direct web traffic, but its CEO, Pichai, insisted there is plenty of competition in the area of web search.

Cook was also challenged about Apple’s dominance in app development, but he assured lawmakers that developers are treated fairly.

Bezos, making his first appearance before Congress, defended Amazon’s role in the retail marketplace and said his company much competition to contend with in the e-commerce ecosystem.

While some in the Congress have suggested that large technology firms should be broken up, none appeared to go that far during the five-hour grilling.

If they had, the CEOs would likely have pointed out their size and power have served consumers’ interests fairly well, especially over the last four months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Twitter has updated its policy to ban unsafe links with harmful content on the social media platform.

The tech company announced Tuesday, that it is updating its policies to prohibit links to content promoting hate speech and violence.

Agency report says hitherto, a loophole in the social media site’s rules enabled users to post links to content that otherwise would have violated its policies had it been tweeted directed.

Now, Twitter will display a warning notice when a link is clicked or could block the link altogether.

It was learnt that accounts that frequently share problematic links risk being permanently suspended and banned from making new accounts.

In a statement, the company wrote that “our goal is to block links in a way that’s consistent with how we remove Tweets that violate our rules.

“In some cases, the sharing of a link will also result in account suspension due to a zero-tolerance policy (for instance, if a link is shared to child sexual exploitation content).”

In blocking harmful Web content, Twitter said URLs that direct users to malware or attempts to steal personal information would be limited, as would “spammy links that mislead people or disrupt their experience.”

The platform is also striving to curb the spread of content including terrorism, child pornography, or links to illegal substances, according to report.

It added: “We will permanently suspend accounts tweeting about these topics that we know are engaged in violations of our multi-account policy, coordinating abuse around individual victims, or are attempting to evade a previous suspension — something we’ve seen more of in recent weeks.”

Additional reporting by Gbenga Kayode

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