Newly surfaced emails show how ruthlessly Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google built their businesses and ate up smaller companies

Amazon; Apple; Facebook; Google; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
  • New documents surfaced through a Congressional investigation into Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook show how the companies pursued acquisitions and fought off perceived competitors.
  • The documents provide a rare glimpse into the actions taken by top executives including Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs at crucial moments for their company.
  • Lawmakers said the documents are evidence that companies engaged in anticompetitive behavior, but CEOs defended their companies' actions and said they continue to face stiff competition.

Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple didn't become four of the biggest tech companies in the world overnight — and newly surfaced documents show the tough, often-cutthroat decisions made by top executives at the company at pivotal moments in their growth.

Members of Congress obtained emails, memos, and internal studies from the four companies as part of an ongoing antitrust investigation. They were published Wednesday when the CEOs of the four companies testified in an unprecedented Congressional hearing.

The documents reveal how top executives at the tech giants including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs guided their companies' growth and jousted with perceived threats. They also paint a picture of four tech companies aggressively pursuing growth at all costs, chasing acquisitions and strategizing against possible competitors.Advertisement

Many of the lawmakers leading the House Antitrust Committee's investigation said the documents are evidence that the companies wield too much power. But the four CEOs repeatedly framed their actions as necessary steps to keep their companies alive.

Facebook emails show Zuckerberg worried 'Instagram can hurt us' before acquisition

Months before Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion, Zuckerberg wrote in an email that he was concerned "Instagram can hurt us meaningfully without becoming a huge business."

In a different email, a colleague questioned whether Zuckerberg's reasoning for wanting to acquire Instagram was to either neutralize a competitor or improve Facebook.
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In his response, Zuckerberg said it was a combination of both. He then replied to that email 45 minutes later to clarify that "I didn't mean to imply that we'd be buying them to prevent them from competing with us in any way."

At one point in Wednesday's hearing, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, accused Zuckerberg of leveraging acquisitions of companies he saw as threats. "These tactics reinforce Facebook's dominance which you then use in increasingly destructive way," Jayapal said.Advertisement

Zuckerberg said in response that Facebook doesn't aim to intimidate or pressure competitors.

"I respectfully disagree with the premise," he said.

Amazon emails show how the company tried to hobble Diapers.com before acquiring it

Emails published by Congress show Amazon aimed to undercut Quidsi, the parent company of Diapers.com and Soap.com, before acquiring the company for $545 million in 2010.Advertisement

"We have already initiated a more aggressive 'plan to win' against diapers.com," Amazon retail executive Doug Herrington wrote in a 2010 email. "To the extent that this plan undercuts the core diapers business for diapers.com, it will slow the adoption of Soap.com."

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, a Pennsylvania Democrat, questioned Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos about the emails Wednesday and accused Amazon of routinely weakening competitors with low prices, even if it caused Amazon to take a loss. Bezos responded that he didn't remember the situation described in the emails about Diapers.com and that Amazon sets low prices to win over customers.

"I cannot comment on that because I don't remember it," Bezos said. "What I can tell you is that we are very, very focused on the customer."Advertisement

New emails show how Steve Jobs used Apple's control over the app store to 'cut off' developers

Congress published emails that show former Apple CEO Steve Jobs wielding the company's control over its app store to punish developers.

In one 2010 email, Jobs suggests the company "cut off" Joe Hewitt, a developer that didn't want to comply with Apple's new requirement that iPhone apps be written in Apple's native programming language.

"I'd suggest we just cut Joe off from now on," he said.Advertisement

Emails suggest Google feared competitors that could divert traffic away from its own products

Rep. David Cicilline, chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee, said that newly published emails from over a decade ago show Google repeatedly considering whether to delist companies from search that it found threatening.

"These documents show that Google's staff discussed 'the proliferating threat' that these web pages pose to Google. Any traffic lost to other sites was a loss in revenue," Cicilline said. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet, said in reply that the company prioritizes users' experiences, but did not directly address anticompetitive concerns.Advertisement

"When I run the company, I'm really focused on giving users what they want. We conduct ourselves to the highest standard," Pichai said.

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