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Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, July 29, 2020. (Photo: Graeme Jennings/AFP via Getty Images)

'Monopoly Power' of Tech Giants 'Must End,' Says Top Dem After Marathon Hearing by Powerful CEOs

"Their control of the marketplace allows them to do whatever it takes to crush independent business and expand their own power."

Eoin Higgins

A top House Democrat on Wednesday slammed the heads of four tech giants for their monopoly power over the nation's tech industry, saying the four companies "need to be properly regulated and held accountable."

"Our founders would not bow before a king. Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy," Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, said in his opening remarks. 

Cicilline was one of a number of Democratic lawmakers who took Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Apple's Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, and Google's Sundar Pichai to task during the day-long hearing focused on the outsized power enjoyed by the conglomerates. 

According to the New York Times:

Not since Microsoft stood trial in the late 1990s for antitrust charges have tech chief executives been under such a microscope for the power of their businesses. With echoes of the trustbusting of U.S. Steel and Standard Oil more than a century ago and AT&T in 1984, the hearing underlined the government's recognition that this cohort of tech companies—which wield immense control over commerce, communications ,and public discourse—had become the new trusts of the internet age.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) called out Bezos for Amazon's control over user data and how the company can use that information to manipulate algorithms and promote its own products over those of other users of its marketplace. 

"You can set the rules of the game for your competitors, but not actually follow those same rules for yourself," said Jayapal.

The hearing, Open Markets Institute director of enforcement strategy Sally Hubbard said in a statement, proves that the four companies "are the modern equivalents of the railroads that used network monopolies to determine who gets to market and who doesn't."

"No longer can anyone dispute the fact that tech giants build and maintain their empires by breaking the antitrust laws," said Hubbard. "Google and Amazon use their control of search rankings—and the discoverability of commerce and information—to exclude competition and to determine the fates of entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes. Apple gives special treatment to its own apps. Facebook bought Instagram and WhatsApp for the purpose of eliminating competitive threats after spying on their businesses through its control of digital infrastructure. These mergers were illegal, part of a pattern of monopolization, and should be unwound."

Hubbard added that Congress "must use this hearing as a springboard for aggressive reforms that deconcentrate control over essential services for American citizens and businesses, and that ensure nondiscrimination in prices and terms."

"Our economy and democracy depend on it," said Hubbard.

Consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen's competition policy advocate Alex Harman accused the CEOs of lying to Congress and dodging questions.

"Despite the irrefutable evidence of his own words, Zuckerberg blatantly evaded questions about Facebook's anticompetitive tactics of copying, bullying, and buying competitors to maintain his monopoly," said Harman. "And despite evidence, Cook denied Apple's practice of bullying developers into accepting the predatory terms of its market-dominating App Store."

The time has come to take strict measures against the tech behemoths, Harman said. 

"It's time to break up and regulate these companies, which have profited off exploiting consumer data, hurt innovation by competing unfairly, and threatened our democracy and elections," he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a longtime critic of the outsized power held by the tech giants, said on Twitter that regulators must work to hold the companies in check and called for individual hearings by company.

"Big Tech thinks they're too big to be held accountable—and with gutless antitrust enforcement, they are," she said. "If we want to fully expose the manipulative, anti-competitive business practices of four companies worth over 1/5 of the U.S. economy, we need to haul each CEO in individually."

In his concluding remarks, Cicilline called for stronger controls over the industry and for reining in the four companies.

"Their control of the marketplace allows them to do whatever it takes to crush independent business and expand their own power," said Cicilline. "This must end."

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