Tomorrow, representatives of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple will testify before the Congress at the second hearing held as part of the antitrust investigation of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives of the world's largest technology companies.
While the first hearing focused on how technology companies have dismantled the traditional information sector, this one promises to examine "the impact of the market power of the platforms in question. line on innovation and the spirit of enterprise ", according to the committee.
Unlike the previous audience, which featured media representatives and industry organizations attacking or defending the way that online advertising had spoiled the information sector, this latest publication led by the democratic representative of Rhode Island, David Cicilline, will have real business leaders to answer questions from Congress.
Adam Cohen, responsible for Google's economic policy, will appear in part of the testimony. Amazon Assistant General Counsel, Nate Sutton; Matt Perault, global policy manager for Facebook; and Kyle Andeer, Apple Chief Compliance Officer.
Tim Wu, a law professor from Colombia, a fierce critic of technological consolidation and a champion of tighter antitrust oversight of high-tech companies, and Maureen Ohlhausen, a partner at Baker Botts and former acting president of the Federal Trade Commission responsible for its antitrust actions.
Wu and his opinions largely sum up the opinion of detractors of the current dominance of these companies in the market.
"In fact, I would love a lot if a serious Facebook challenger dismantled Facebook and I would stop asking for antitrust measures. It's just when you start to suspect that the barriers have become strong enough that a business can survive. So maybe we should relax the antitrust legislation, get things moving, and get the market cycle into place. Now this will eventually happen, but we can not wait 50 years, "Wu said in an interview at the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year.
"It's also possible that history suggests that a company like Facebook, and perhaps Amazon, will soon be trying to convince the government to defend itself against competition. I do not know what it will look like, but maybe Facebook is accepting a privacy law that for some reason is very hard for newcomers to respect. Amazon may attempt to instantiate itself as a national e-commerce monopoly, much like a Bell-regulated monopoly. It's a natural step, especially as a big star, to become less competitive. And before that happens, I think we give the antitrust law its turn. "
Policy observers can expect market critics of large technology platforms to come from a number of different perspectives (each company has different, slightly overlapping issues that policy makers are concerned about).
For the alphabet, The criticisms stem mainly from the company's dominance in online search and ad networks that it controls via DoubleClick and AdMob (as well as YouTube's popular video platform). At Amazon, this is Jeff Bezos'e-commerce's way of retrieving sales information and using it to inform prices and potentially anti-competitive practices that hinder the development of new e-commerce players by promoting its own brands. and products.
For Facebook, it is the dominance of the social media platforms of the company (including Instagram and the WhatsApp messaging service) that cause concern, as well as its reluctance to open its social graph to other startups. The company is also sparking the screams of consumer rights advocates for its abysmal ability to protect the privacy and data of users.
Finally, Apple's control over the entire ecosystem it provides to consumers – and the pricing policies applied by some detractors to extortion are a source of concern for the political class.
These competition concerns also go against the disproportionate ambitions of these technology companies in other areas. Facebook is trying to bypass the existing global financial system by launching its Libra cryptocurrency; Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook all aim to dominate the development of artificial intelligence in open markets; And then there is the work these companies do in areas as diverse as health care, mobility technologies, even space travel and high-speed networks.
With so many interests in so many areas and main activities generating so much money, it is easy to confuse a more general malaise with the ambitions of these companies and the main anti-competitive arguments that deserve to be discussed.
In order for this hearing – and indeed the Congressional inquiry – to bear fruit, "you need to focus less on the global ambitions of these technology companies than on the practices they have adopted to stifle competition.