Sundar Pichai, other tech titans grilled by House panel

Sundar Pichai
Sundar Pichai

Indian American lawmaker Pramila Jayapal leads charge.

Four US tech titans including Google’s Sundar Pichai faced tough questions from both sides of the aisle about their competitive tactics at an anti-trust hearing with Indian American lawmaker Pramila Jayapal leading the charge.

Besides Pichai, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Tim Cook of Apple testified via video link Wednesday before a House sub-committee that had investigated the companies’ alleged abuse of monopoly power for over a year.

“What is Google’s share of the ad exchange market?” demanded Jayapal of Pichai complaining about how many local publications across the US had been forced to shut shop due to the search engine’s ad policies.

Pichai sought to defend his company’s ad tool saying “Google is a popular choice” with a low profit margin and they were “deeply committed to journalism.”

“(Google) is running the marketplace, is acting on the buy-side and its acting on the sell-side which is a major conflict of interest,” Jayapal countered.

“Local journalism is necessary for our democracy and we must protect it,” she later tweeted.

“That’s why I’m concerned about how Google has total control of the ad market as the owner of the market, the ad buyer, AND the ad seller,” Jayapal said. “That’s not only a conflict of interest, it’s harmful to our democracy.”

Pichai also told the panel that Google’s continued success is not guaranteed in a fast-changing world as it faces competition in all areas where it now operates.

“Today’s competitive landscape looks nothing like it did five years ago, let alone 21 years ago, when Google launched its first product, Google Search,” he said. “Google’s continued success is not guaranteed.”

Chennai born Democrat Jayapal who became the first Indian-American woman member of the House in 2017, also made Bezos to admit that Amazon may have violated its policy of not using third-party seller data to make business decisions.

“I can tell you we have a policy against using seller-specific data to aid our private label business,” he responded. “But I can’t guarantee you that that policy has never been violated.”

Pressed further by Jayapal on whether Amazon ever used data of sellers on its platform to create and promote its own products to edge out third-party products, Bezos did not deny it.

Questioning Zuckerberg about Facebook’s “bullying” and eliminating competition by making copycat products, she asked: “Mark, are you a big, fat copy cat?”

Jayapal read a number of damning email exchanges between Zuckerberg and other top executives that explicitly stated the company’s strategy of neutralizing competition through copying products and bullying rivals into selling.

“Do you copy your competitors?” Jayapal asked.

“We’ve certainly adapted features that others have led on, as have others copied and adapted features that we’ve led on,” Zuckerberg replied.

Turning to Instagram, which Facebook acquired in 2012, Jayapal asked: ”Has Facebook ever threatened to clone the products of another company while also trying to acquire that company?”

Not that I recall,” Mark responded. To which Jayapal said: “I’d like to remind you that you are under oath.”

“Facebook’s very model makes it hard for new companies to flourish,” she said.

“This destructive model makes it impossible for new companies to flourish – harming our democracy, small businesses, and consumers,” Jayapal added.

Apple’s Tim Cook faced relatively few questions about Apple’s App Store guidelines for developers, which have been a main complaint among critics.

Cook contended that his company does not have a dominant market share “in any market where we do business” and prioritizes the quality of product versus scale.

“The App Store evolves with the times, and every change we have made has been in the direction of providing a better experience for our users and a compelling business opportunity for developers.”

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