At the “Online Platforms and Market Power” virtual antitrust hearing today, the House Judiciary Committee questioned Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai over Webex. But they weren’t all questioned equally. Most of the questions were directed at Bezos, Zuckerberg, and Pichai — each of them was in the hot seat for at least 50 minutes, by our measure. Cook, on the other hand, was only asked a handful of questions for about 25 minutes. This breakdown of how many times each CEO was questioned by a congressperson today shows where the antitrust focus is, and isn’t:
- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: 13 times
- Apple CEO Tim Cook: 7 times
- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: 16 times
- Google CEO Sundar Pichai: 16 times
Antitrust investigations matter to the companies being scrutinized but also to the businesses that depend on them. In this case, that includes, but is not limited to, any business that sells goods on Amazon; wants its website to show up in Google search results; offers an iOS app on Apple’s App Store; or uses ads to target potential customers via Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission are pursuing antitrust investigations into all four companies.
One of the many problems with asking the four CEOs to appear on the same day is that some will inevitably get more screen time than others. The committee clearly focused on Amazon, Facebook, and Google for their anti-competitive behaviors. Bezos was taken to task over Amazon using seller-specific data to determine what products to manufacture and sell itself. Pichai was repeatedly criticized for Google’s decision to prioritize its own products and services in its search results. Zuckerberg was frequently questioned about Facebook acquiring competing social networks, especially Instagram. Cook, meanwhile, talked about Apple’s App Store a handful of times, and that was that.
Compared to Cook, the other three CEOs each spent 3 times longer representing their respective companies. That’s good news for Apple. It’s not such good news for businesses that build on Apple’s platforms.
While today’s hearing is a significant public event, it is a small part of the larger series of antitrust investigations into Big Tech. We will hear more about those over the next few months, especially following the U.S. elections in November.
All four companies report their latest quarterly earnings tomorrow. The respective earnings calls may be less yawn-inducing than usual. The results will encompass the first full quarter during the coronavirus pandemic. Investors may also have follow-up questions regarding today’s hearing.