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4 Big Tech CEOs Testified Before House Panel's Anti-Trust Hearing

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

They were called the cyber barons and modern monopolists. Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Apple's Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sundar Pichai spent almost six hours fielding questions from Congress over video conference yesterday. Here's how House antitrust chief Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline set the stage for the hearing yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID CICILLINE: Our founders would not bow before a king, nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy.

GREENE: OK. Before we go on, we should note that all of these companies are among financial supporters of NPR. Let's bring in NPR's Alina Selyukh, who covered this. Hi, Alina.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what did we learn yesterday?

SELYUKH: So the House lawmakers, who called this hearing, have been investigating these companies for over a year now. And yesterday, we got a first taste of what it is that they've learned from all the interviews, documents and emails that they've collected. It was a fairly adversarial situation with the CEOs. In a way, this was a tale of two hearings.

One was the key focus - how the tech giants may have grown at the expense of others. For example, lawmakers grilled Facebook about how the company buys or replicates rivals that threaten to lure away its users like Instagram. Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal read off emails between Zuckerberg and other executives.

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PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Do you copy your competitors?

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Congresswoman, we've certainly adapted features that others have led in as have others copied and adapted features that we've...

JAYAPAL: I'm not concerned about others. I'm just asking you, Mr. Zuckerberg.

SELYUKH: Similarly, Google has been accused by Yelp and others of stealing restaurant reviews and other content. Some small sellers on Amazon have complained about feeling trapped and dealing with constantly changing rules. App developers have accused Apple of unfairly charging them different fees. All four CEOs face different versions of the same question about how they throw their weight around to bully competitors out of the way.

GREENE: All right, so a lot there. But there was more, right? You said this was a tale of two hearings.

SELYUKH: Yes. You know, as I said, the point of this hearing was how tech companies deal with competition. But a big chunk of the hearing had nothing to do with that. Several of Republicans, particularly the firebrand Jim Jordan from Ohio, probed the CEOs for anti-conservative bias.

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JIM JORDAN: Mr. Cook, is the cancel culture mob dangerous?

SELYUKH: Jordan demanded neutrality from Google in the upcoming election. He asked if all the CEOs supported diversity of opinions, which actually prompted a bit of an interesting moment. Bezos took a dig at discourse on social media, calling social networks nuance destruction machines. I wish we could see Mark Zuckerberg's face at that moment. He was right there, but the video conference did not show him.

GREENE: Yeah. It's a different scene when we're in video conference, and I'm watching them all sitting there...

SELYUKH: Right.

GREENE: ...Behind that desk. So what was your impression of these CEOs? Like, how did they handle themselves yesterday?

SELYUKH: You know, they rejected the entire premise of the hearing that they're big bullies. They played up their humble beginnings, how much people value their product, how they still face competition. Bezos was billed as the big get for the hearing, the first appearance by the world's richest person before Congress. He had technical difficulties and got no questions for over an hour, even was caught on video sneaking some snacks. But then came a series of questions about how Amazon treats sellers on its platform, starting with Jayapal asking, does Amazon use data it collects from other sellers to make its own products? And Bezos replied...

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JEFF BEZOS: What I can tell you is we have a policy against using seller-specific data to aid our private-label business. But I can't guarantee you that that policy has never been violated.

SELYUKH: An unexpected concession from Bezos. Overall, companies essentially argued bad episodes were outliers. Their entire goal is to make users happy. And now we wait to see what the committee thinks when they release their final findings of the investigation.

GREENE: NPR's Alina Selyukh. Thanks, Alina.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.