Regulation, the main fear of the big tech companies, is getting closer every day. After a year of investigation, dozens of interviews and hundreds of thousands of documents, the 15 members of the antitrust committee of the United States Congress are ready for their greatest examination: to interrogate the executive presidents of the four main technology companies this Wednesday. Jeff Bezos of Amazon; Tim Cook of Apple; Sundar Pichai of Google and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook will have to explain and defend themselves about whether their companies harm competition and consumers. Beyond the spectacle, their conviction capacity will depend in part if they deserve that new laws regulate their practices.
They will appear together but the interrogation will be virtual, which will avoid the emblematic paraphernalia that other industries have gone through when defending themselves: tobacco companies, pharmaceutical companies or banks, after the last crisis. Most Americans believe that the power of technology is excessive and the feeling is that something must be done: 77% believe that they have too much power or 60% believe that they do more to divide society than to unite it, according to data from Gallup. However, when asked about each company in particular, almost all get a good grade, according to annual data from the digital medium The Verge: around 70% of Americans trust Netflix, Apple and Google, which are behind Microsoft (75% ) and Amazon (73%). Of the top four, only Facebook suspends with 41% confidence.
The problem with this long battle for regulation is not just deciding whether the market power of these companies has hurt consumers and limited their rivals, but how to remedy the situation without making it worse. The main solution that arises, because it is the simplest, is to break them: separate WhatsApp and Instagram from Facebook, YouTube from Google or Amazon Web Services from Amazon. The most similar recent situation was Microsoft two decades ago and it came to nothing. But the solutions that end up appearing can also be more creative. This Wednesday at 18.00, Spanish peninsular time, a long battle begins. It is something, above all, that until now they had had little to worry about. But the times of growth as the only guide are over.
Among those appearing will be the richest person in the world, Jeff Bezos, and the seventh, Mark Zuckerberg, according to the Forbes list. Zuckerberg will also be the youngest, at 36, and also the oldest veteran in appearances in Congress. It will be his fourth time after his statements due to electoral interference and privacy. For Pichai, 48, and Cook, 59, it will be second. Only Bezos, at 56, will debut.
Despite the joint ritual and the importance of appearance, the challenges and defense strategies of each of these companies are different. Misinformation, radicalization, exaggerated commissions, illegitimate obtaining of competition data, random decisions about rivals or the limitation of the offer are just a few examples. In such dominant companies, there are multiple reasons why they may be exploiting their position.
These are the criticisms that each of these companies has received. During the appearance, however, some congressmen will likely post their questions about alleged damages against conservative causes or other collateral problems to earn points. In the end, this is also political.
Amazon and the cloud
Amazon has grown more if possible during the pandemic. Despite its reputation for being a digital commerce website, its cloud server service for governments and companies, called Amazon Web Services (AWS), is also the leader in its sector.
But Bezos will not be before Congress for that, but for abusing his dominant role as a vendor with his suppliers and as a platform for third parties. Free shipping through Amazon Prime is a tremendously popular option in the US, limiting the competition’s options. Amazon has detailed information on what other products sell best so that they can be made under your brand. The company also logically controls the way products are displayed on the web. 49% of product searches start on Amazon and only 22% on Google. Amazon dominates about half of ecommerce in the US.
Apple and its App Store
The great debate of Apple is in the App Store. Outside of China, Apple and Google, with their platform, Android, dominate the global market. The Cupertino company charges a commission of 30% of all sales of apps and within apps of its online store. And it has published a report this week where it says that 30% is standard in the industry, without noting that the company itself was one of the main drivers of that standard.
But it’s not the only problem with the App Store: Spotify has started a long war with Apple over whether the company benefits its own app, Apple Music, on its platform. The power of Tim Cook’s company extends beyond the Store itself: until now the browser of his operating system was by default Safari, the company browser. With the new version of their system, users will be able to choose.
Google and a changing search engine
Google is, along with Apple, the company that must defend itself the most. Its monopoly on mobile platforms is almost unshakable. Plus, it still dominates search. Not only because of Google, but because YouTube is the second most used search engine in the world. The Google search engine traditionally served to send users to the most useful web for their search. That optimal result has been hidden over the years under a broad layer of advertisements, maps, “things people also look for” and other services that limit the appearance of desired results.
An investigation of the Markup website of the 15,000 most popular searches in the US results in 41% of the main mobile space being occupied by results offered by Google itself on the same page, without the need to click to go to another website. . What was previously a service for the user to go to the most suitable website for their search has become a space for Google to try to get the user to follow Google.
Google also has an essential platform to place ads on websites, the main browser (Chrome) and the largest video platform (Youtube). Its role in Android, in addition, gives it an incredible ability to pressure when it comes to knowing how other applications are used or to pressure developers to use their search engine in apps.
Facebook and the perfect excuse
Zuckerberg’s company has been the most analyzed and hated in recent years. Its main service, Facebook, is widely used worldwide, but it has also been a center of criticism for reasons as diverse and terrible as the alleged facilitator of genocide or electoral cheating. Unlike Amazon or Gmail, millions of users see Facebook as a tool to spread disinformation and cause disunity, rather than connecting people.
The future integration of direct messaging from Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp will probably be one of the keys to the appearance. Zuckerberg is clear however her perfect excuse today: TikTok. If American companies competing on social media are fragmented, they will have a harder time competing with their new rivals, who are also Chinese.