This week, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sundar Pichai testified for nearly six hours before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust Law; appropriately, the executives of the four tech giants of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google did so over video. In the most recent episode of the New York podcast Pivot, co-hosts Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway discuss the winners and losers of the most prominent tech testimony in years, and how the meeting set the stage for future antitrust action.
Kara Swisher: The whole event — from [Representative] David Cicilline saying Google stole content from other sites to [Representative] Jerry Nadler pushing Facebook on its acquisition of Instagram — was a little spicier than I anticipated.
Scott Galloway: Yeah, these things are typically more about spectacle than they are historic. By which I mean, they’re meant to sort of create a sentiment, which the representatives or the senators then use to feel out what public opinion is. But this felt more historic than it did a spectacle. It didn’t feel as if there were any great TV moments, but it was clear that subcommittee staff, over the last 13 months or so, had actually done their homework, collecting over a million pages of documents.
I keep getting optimistic and I keep getting my heart broken, but to me this feels like the beginning of the end of Big Tech as we know it. It just seemed as if they weren’t really there to get information. They were confident in the information they had collected, and they were just stating their viewpoint over and over. Prior to the hearings, there was a seminal moment where you had two tweets saying, “I hope these guys get broken up.” Two tweets, different language, but basically the same message. One was from Bernie Sanders and one was from Donald Trump. So when you have people from both sides of the aisle wanting to break them up, even if it’s for different reasons — even if some of those reasons aren’t valid — it looks like we have our first bipartisan issue in a while.
Swisher: Yeah … the Republicans sort of wasted their time on the other stuff because it all is related to power. If they are upset about conservative bias, make room for other people to come in and let you rant somewhere else …
Galloway: The first pattern I recognized at the hearing — and I’m shocked that Twitter didn’t run with it — was that any kind of notion of your product being anti-American was generally from the white guy to the one brown guy. And I thought, “Oh, that makes sense.” And no one noticed it. And I thought, How come they’re not asking the white guy, Zuckerberg, about being anti-American or about not being American?
It also struck me that the Democrats actually read the label on the door that it was an antitrust hearing. And really, I would say two-thirds of the Republican questions were for an audience of one. And it struck me that we forget how much power [Trump] has within the GOP — 70 percent of Republicans still support the president. So he can basically get you reelected or not … I thought, All of these guys are playing to Fox! And [now] I’m like, no they’re not. They’re playing to one guy who watches Fox.
Ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner had the kind of comment that could come back to haunt him, when he started questioning Zuckerberg on the removal of Donald Trump Jr.’s [tweet about] hydroxychloroquine. Mark Zuckerberg pointed out, Sir, that was Twitter. That was the kind of moment like, Okay, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Swisher: The Republicans wasted this opportunity, which is in their interest. Among the committee members, who did you think had the best day?
Galloway: Oh, the rock star here was Representative Jayapal. She was substantive, strong, forceful, not taking any shit.
At the end of the day, there will really be two moments, from a legal perspective. The first was when Nadler was essentially able to get Facebook to acknowledge that it acquired Instagram in large part to put a competitor out of business, which you’re not supposed to do.
The other I was speaking about with Tim Wu, who said that probably the moment that will come back to haunt Amazon is that [Bezos] acknowledged that it purposely priced Alexa products below cost. And you’re not supposed to do that. That’s the equivalent of dumping. And they don’t need to. It’s not like they’ve got to clear the inventory. They’re just going for market share and doing it on a consistent basis by selling below cost.
Swisher: Jayapal also got Bezos to say, “What I can tell you is we have a policy against selling specific user data to aid our private label business, but … I can’t guarantee you that policy hasn’t been violated.”
Galloway: My favorite point is that in the first 93 minutes, there were more questions to Jack Dorsey than Jeff Bezos. And Jack Dorsey wasn’t a witness.
Swisher: Yeah. That was Jim Jordan again. Who do you think had the best and worst day?
Galloway: I think Tim Cook probably had the best day. One, because antitrust is the dullest sword as it relates to Apple. It’s just not entirely clear how he’d break them up. They’re not as angry at them. I thought he got off easy. I thought they were going to go after Tim Cook for China. I believe that there are more Apple employees now in China than there are in the U.S. He did the best by virtue of omission, and people just didn’t really go after him.
Who did second best, quite frankly, was Zuckerberg.
Swisher: Oh, Zuckerberg? Really? Not Pichai?
Galloway: Pichai was largely out of the way, but Zuckerberg, I felt you could register that this was Zuckerberg’s third time at the circus.
Swisher: Yeah, he always gets better.
Galloway: He knows what he’s good at. He knows how to do this now. Stall, and when appropriate push back. He’s not nearly as likable. But I thought, Wow, this guy has done this before, and it’s starting to show. And then Sundar. And I actually thought Bezos had a tougher time. I thought he made some unforced errors. And some of the stuff that came out is going to come back to [haunt] him.
Swisher: Bezos is in trouble with the marketplace. As much as retailers and other sellers need the Amazon platform, I don’t think they’re scared. They’re like, enough is enough with them stealing our shit.
Pivot is produced by Rebecca Sananes. Erica Anderson is the executive producer.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.