Big Tech's CEOs testified in a historic antitrust hearing last week. Now what happens?

Graeme Jennings - Pool/Getty Images/MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images/Business Insider
  • Wednesday's highly-anticipated antitrust hearing featuring Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Apple CEO Tim Cook has officially come and gone.
  • Now, Congress will consider the testimonies delivered during the hearing as well as other meetings and hearings made in the last year as part of its investigation into online competition.
  • Lawmakers will also take into account hundreds of thousands of internal company emails, memos, and other documents submitted to Congress as part of the investigation.
  • Congress will release a report outlining its findings of the investigation in the coming weeks.
  • The report could be another step toward eventually creating new antitrust laws, or revising the original ones, that would better apply to 21st-century big tech and could more efficiently keep the industry in check.

Wednesday's nearly six-hour tech antitrust hearing was quite a spectacle.

Republican lawmakers used the opportunity to question the execs on anticonservative bias they say is prevalent on the online platforms. One of them, Rep. Jim Jordan, asked the CEOs for their opinion on cancel culture. Some subcommittee members mispronounced Google CEO Sundar Pichai's name incorrectly (peek-eye.) Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos forgot to unmute himself before talking at one point and took a snack break or two.

Though highly-anticipated and star studded, Wednesday's Big Tech hearing was just one part of an ongoing congressional investigation into competition in the digital market. And some of the most striking revelations so far come not from the CEO questioning, but from the hundreds of thousands of internal company emails and other documents gathered by Congress.Advertisement

As Business Insider has reported, the unguarded discussions among company leaders in the emails reveal a pattern of cutthroat actions to snuff out or leapfrog emerging rivals.

Now it's up to the members of Congress to roll up their sleeves and — taking into account the trove of emails, the CEO's answers at Wednesday's hearing, and the hundreds of hours of other meetings and hearings — reach an agreement about what kind of ground rules are preprepared for the new breed of corporate juggernauts that control powerful and borderless digital platforms.

The antitrust subcommittee is expected to release a report of its investigation in the coming weeks. The end goal is to create new laws, or approve revisions to the original century-old ones, that are better tailored to 21st-century tech companies. The laws as they stand now aren't updated to apply to modern tech business. For example, US anticompetitive laws have to show that consumers are being harmed, and that's more difficult to do in big tech than in other industries in the past, like oil.
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As Rep. David Cicilline, the chair of the House Judiciary's antitrust subcommittee, said in his closing statements Wednesday, "This hearing has made one fact clear to me: These companies as they exist today have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up, all need to be regulated and held accountable."

But blanket regulation may not be feasible, since each of the four companies present different concerns with regards to competition. Amazon is primarily being investigated over claims that it gives special treatment to its own brands over third-party sellers. Google is under scrutiny for its dominance in digital ads. Facebook is in the spotlight for acquiring would-be competitors like WhatsApp and Instagram. And lawmakers are looking into Apple's App Store commission rates and whether or not they hurt developers. So Congress would not only have to lay the groundwork for better antitrust regulation in the tech world but design it in a way that encompasses a broad scope of anticompetitive business practices. That won't be easy, but the hearing and the antitrust subcommittee's upcoming report is a step in that direction.Advertisement

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