The heads of some of the world’s biggest tech companies have appeared before Washington lawmakers to defend their firms against claims they abuse their power to quash competitors.
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos said the world “needs large” firms, while the heads of Facebook, Apple and Google argued their companies had spurred innovation.
The appearance comes as lawmakers consider tougher regulation and competition probes are under way.
Some critics want the firms broken up.
Democrats pressed the tech titans on competition issues, while Republicans were more concerned about how they managed information and whether they were marginalising conservative views.
Congressman David Cicilline, the Democrat leading the congressional committee holding the hearing, said a year-long investigation by lawmakers had showed the online platforms had “wielded their power in destructive, harmful ways in order to expand”.
He said he was convinced the firms were monopolies and called for action.
“Some need to be broken up and all need to be properly regulated,” he said at the end of more than five hours of testimony.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Sundar Pichai of Google, and Tim Cook of Apple insisted they had done nothing illegal and stressed the American roots and values of their firms.
What are the main concerns about the tech giants?
At the hearing, lawmakers accused Google of having stolen content created by smaller firms, like Yelp, in order to keep users on their own web pages.
Amazon’s treatment of sellers on its site, Facebook’s acquisition of competitors such as Instagram, and Apple’s App store also drew attention.
Cicilline said Amazon has an inherent conflict of interest as it hosts sellers and competes against them by offering similar products. This practice has also been subject to scrutiny by European regulators.
“Amazon’s dual role … is fundamentally anti-competitive and Congress must act,” he said.
However, some Republicans signaled that they were not prepared to split companies or significantly reform US competition laws, with a committee member saying “big is not inherently bad”.
Republican concerns focused on the perceived political bias in companies, which they accused of suppressing conservative views.
“I’m going to get right to the point: big technology is looking for conservatives,” said Congressman Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican.
What did the companies say?
Appearing by remote video, executives defended their companies, saying their products helped smaller companies and remained vulnerable to competition from newcomers.
Apple chief Tim Cook said the business climate was “so competitive that I would describe it as a street fight for market share in the smartphone industry”.
Bezos, in his first appearance in Congress, denied that Amazon’s multiple roles were a conflict of interest, but he admitted that the company was reviewing the handling of sales data on sellers on the site.
The company has been accused of using this information to launch its own version of the best-selling products.
Bezos said Amazon’s rules prohibit employees from viewing sales data for individual companies, but admitted that employees may have violated the policy.
“We are investigating this,” he said.
In his prepared remarks, Bezos said that Amazon faces significant competition from companies like Walmartand, noting that the company lost money for years as it branched out into new areas.
“I love garage entrepreneurs – I was one. But just as the world needs small businesses, so it needs big ones. There are things that small businesses just can’t do,” he said.
What did Donald Trump say?
US President Donald Trump is a longtime critic of Amazon and has threatened his own action on Twitter, writing: “If Congress does not bring justice to Big Tech, what they should have done years ago, I will do it myself with executive orders. “
He also told reporters that White House officials were watching the hearing closely.
“There is no doubt that what the big tech companies are doing is very bad,” he said.
Technology analyst Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities said “storm clouds” were building in Washington, but he thought it unlikely that Congress would join new legislation that would force technology companies to change.
“We believe that a legislative solution is the only one that creates a potential limitation on the ability of these companies to do business, whether in the form of higher taxes or new rules regarding market concentration,” he wrote.
“In the absence of a legislative correction, we do not see significant changes in regulation, although future acquisitions are certainly scrutinized and more difficult to close.”