Heads of some of the world's biggest tech companies – Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple – are set to testify before US lawmakers on the evening of July 29 in what is being termed the biggest hearing of its kind since that of Microsoft in 1998.
"Since last June, the Subcommittee has been investigating the dominance of a small number of digital platforms and the adequacy of existing antitrust laws and enforcement," Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David N Cicilline said in a statement earlier this month.
"Given the central role these corporations play in the lives of the American people, it is critical that their CEOs are forthcoming. As we have said from the start, their testimony is essential for us to complete this investigation," he added.
Ahead of the hearing that is scheduled for later this evening (12 pm ET or 9.30 pm IST), the four tech CEOs have submitted their opening statements before the House committee.
In June last year, the US House Judiciary Committee announced a bipartisan investigation into competition in digital markets . Lawmakers have been probing these leading American tech players for over a year now. The objective of these antitrust investigations is to ascertain whether these companies engage in anti-competitive practices and have grown too powerful or too big as a result of the same.
"The growth of monopoly power across our economy is one of the most pressing economic and political challenges we face today. Market power in digital markets presents a whole new set of dangers," Cicilline had said at the time of launching the probe.
The probe aims to ensure that these companies aren't gaining a monopoly in the digital markets. The committee also seeks to assess whether existing antitrust laws, competition policies, and current enforcement levels in the US are adequate to address issues that have reared their heads in the sector recently.
Significance of the hearing
While there have been similar public hearings in the matter earlier as well (remember Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai being grilled?), this is the first time the CEOs of all four mammoth tech players are going to testify before the committee.
What's more, this is going to be Amazon CEO and the world's richest man Jeff Bezos' first time testifying. Besides, due to the pandemic and associated risks, they are all likely to attend the hearing virtually.
What is each company being probed for?
While Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Google's Sundar Pichai and Apple's Tim Cook are all going to testify alongside each other, all four tech giants are being investigated on separate issues.
The committee is looking into Amazon to see whether it used sensitive information from third-party sellers on its platform to develop competing products.
In case of Apple, claims that the company gives undue advantage to its own apps over third-party products on the App Store, are being investigated.
Google is being probed in connection with its dominance in the digital advertising industry; while Facebook's recent acquisition of leading companies like Giphy, WhatsApp and Instagram have brought the company under the scanner.
The next step
While this isn't a trial hearing where a verdict will be delivered at the end, the lawmakers will use the testimonies to further strengthen their year-long probe.At the end of the process, they will publish a report that is expected to bring key evidence in the public domain. In the long run, this could also pave the way for legislations tailored to regulate the digital and tech industry.