Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg will defend their respective companies before a congressional hearing on Wednesday by saying they are true American businesses that value democracy.
Bezos and Zuckerberg’s written testimony, made public on Tuesday, will be presented to the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel investigating how their business practices and data gathering have hurt smaller rivals.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple chief executive Tim Cook are also due to testify in the sweeping probe of the four tech giants.
Bezos plans to highlight Amazon’s contribution to the economy, investing $270billion in the U.S. over the last decade and creating more than 700,000 ‘indirect’ jobs.
He also emphasizes the company’s dedication to customer service – which cannot be outsourced ‘to China or anywhere else.’
‘To fulfill our promises to customers in this country, we need American workers to get products to American customers. When customers shop on Amazon, they are helping to create jobs in their local communities,’ he says.
Bezos says Amazon hired an additional 175,000 employees during the coronavirus pandemic, including many who were laid off from other jobs.
His testimony also includes personal information about his life before becoming a billionaire and how he was raised by a teen mother and Cuban immigrant adoptive father.
Zuckerberg also touched on the theme of being an American success story, arguing that the social media company grew into a billion-dollar business ‘the American way, by starting out with nothing and providing products that people find valuable.
‘Although people around the world use our products, Facebook is a proudly American company. We believe in values – democracy, competition, inclusion and free expression – that the American economy was built on,’ he says.
Zuckerberg also argues Facebook faces intense competition from large rivals adding: ‘We compete against the companies appearing at this hearing, plus many others that sell advertising and connect people. We also compete globally, including against companies that have access to markets that we aren’t in.’
Zuckerberg also defends Facebook’s acquisitions by saying the social-media platform helped companies like WhatsApp and Instagram grow. Both are owned by Facebook.
He plans to remind lawmakers of the competitive threat U.S. tech companies face from China, saying the Asian country is building its ‘own version of the internet focused on very different ideas, and they are exporting their vision to other countries.’
The billionaire tech exec also renewed Facebook’s call for government regulation in areas such as harmful content in social media, election integrity, and privacy – areas where the company has been criticized.
The high-profile hearing was originally set for Monday but was postponed because Representative John Lewis will be lying in state until Wednesday.
The panel will question the companies as part of its sweeping probe into whether they actively work to harm and eliminate smaller rivals, while not always making the best choices for their customers.
It will be a key moment in the growing backlash against Big Tech in the United States and is likely to set up a face-off between the executives and skeptical lawmakers from both parties.
Many tech lobbying groups and industry critics say the hearing is unlikely to address core antitrust issues or bring new information to the table, however.
‘There’s not much tech CEOs can do to appease anti-tech critics… this hearing is not about finding truth but creating news stories,’ said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at industry lobby group NetChoice.
Apple is likely to be quizzed about the way it manages its app store after facing criticisms that it presents hurdles to newcomers.
Apple told Reuters it will argue it does not have controlling market share for apps. The iPhone maker views its store as a feature designed to ensure the security and reliability of its phones.
It will address issues such as the approval process for the app store – long a sore point with developers who have said their apps are held up without warning – and allegations it does not share key functions such as data about the phone’s location.
The other companies will also contend they still face plenty of competition.
A source familiar with Amazon’s plans said Jeff Bezos will talk about the options consumers have for online purchases and how the coronavirus pandemic has boosted e-commerce overall – including for large retail rivals such as Walmart.
He will also talk about small sellers on its third-party marketplace platform and ‘how they have continued to thrive despite competition from Amazon,’ the source added.
Amazon has come under scrutiny on how it uses data from small sellers to benefit its own business.
Bezos will also address allegations the company took advantage of the pandemic by limiting inventory sold by small sellers but will stay away from bringing up contentious issues such as the conversation around breaking up the company, the source said.
Details of Google’s likely arguments were not available. But in recent weeks the firm has published blog posts and a whitepaper asserting that it still faces plenty of competition and that the fees it charges ad buyers and sellers are justified.
The antitrust subcommittee is expected to release a report within weeks on their investigation into the companies.
The U.S. Justice Department is also probing the big four tech platforms. Facebook and Amazon are also facing inquiries by the Federal Trade Commission, while U.S. states attorneys general are looking at Google and Facebook.