How do you get Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, and Tim Cook in one room?
Put them on a congressional hot bench, of course.
On Wednesday, chief executives of the world’s four biggest tech firms, which coincidentally include two of the planet’s wealthiest people, will defend their businesses before Congress.
According to NPR, all they have to do is answer one simple burning question: Do you use your company’s reach and power to help yourselves while hurting your consumers and competitors?
One question, but the world will be listening. One question, and yet the future of Silicon Valley relies on how well the tech titans answer for the accusations against them.
The antitrust panel of the House Judiciary Committee has pored over millions of documents across hours of closed-door briefings and investigative missions in a span of one year. They are now ready to hear something that may or may not change their minds.
A fellow at Georgetown University’s law school told the New York Times that this is “tech’s ‘Big Tobacco’ moment.”
Back in 1994, top officials of American’s largest tobacco companies had to sit before Congress to convince lawmakers that cigarettes were not addictive.
This time, Bezos has to prove that Amazon has not been undercutting competitors by charging prices at a loss. Zuckerberg has to persuade congressmen that Facebook is not killing off or buying other startups to snuff out possible rivals.
Pichai has to demonstrate that his company is not burying its competitors’ products in Google search results. Finally, Cook has to prove that Apple’s decision to require app developers to use Apple’s payments system to buy a listing in the App Store is not anti-competition.
Historic as it may be, the CEOs’ appearance before the legislative is not unprecedented.
A CNN report reminds us that 22 years ago, Bill Gates himself was summoned before Congress to answer for accusations that Microsoft was using Windows to unfairly muscle out competition.
Microsoft has since maintained its position in the industry and has virtually remained under the radar of antitrust regulators for the longest time.
But today’s tech titans are facing a much broader myriad of complaints. Congress also appears more prepared and determined to crack down at Silicon Valley’s royalty. There’s no shortage of interest, for sure, from businesses and individuals who want to know how this plays out.