Four tech titans go before Congress

By Brian Fung, Rishi Iyengar and Kaya Yurieff

Updated 7:00 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020
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3:40 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

Democrats focus on antitrust at antitrust hearing. Republicans focus on anti-conservative bias

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Rep. Gregory Steube, a Florida Republican
Rep. Gregory Steube, a Florida Republican

While Democrats have largely gone after the tech CEOs for their use of data and behavior toward other competitors in the marketplace, Republicans during the hearing have consistently alleged a pattern of anti-conservative bias by the tech companies, despite little more than anecdotal evidence.

GOP lawmakers’ strategy seems clear: To encourage the media to cover claims of ideological bias as equivalent in gravity and stature to antitrust issues. But researchers have consistently failed to turn up evidence of systemic bias on the part of the platforms’ technology.

At one point, Rep. Gregory Steube, a Florida Republican, confronted Pichai, portraying as an example of bias what may have been a simple technical problem. Steube said that his congressional campaign emails to supporters, including his parents, have often been blocked or sent to Gmail’s spam folder.

“There’s nothing in the algorithm that has anything to do with political ideology,” Pichai said. “We do get complaints across the aisle.”

As if to underscore the point, Rep. Val Demings added, “for the record, I’m a Democrat from Florida and I’ve had heard complaints about my email going to spam as well.”

3:16 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

Two hours into hearing, Jeff Bezos gets his first question

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Jeff Bezos got his first question at the tech hearing.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal pressed Bezos to respond to claims that Amazon uses third-party seller data to advantage itself, a potential antitrust concern for the e-commerce company.

Jayapal cited an anonymous Amazon employee’s testimony that there is a rule against using such data, but that it is not enforced, describing the situation as a “candy shop.”

Bezos acknowledged that there is a policy that prohibits the use of third-party seller data to support Amazon’s own private-label business. But, he admitted, “I can’t guarantee you that policy has never been violated.”

Bezos said that Amazon was looking into reports about violations of the policy. “I’ll take that as you’re not denying it,” Jayapal said.

2:53 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

And we're back!

From CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

After a short recess, the hearing has resumed. The committee did not elaborate on the technical difficulty.

2:43 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

Hearing goes into a recess

The committee has gone into a quick recess to deal with a witness having technical difficulties.

3:53 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

Internal Facebook emails raise new questions about Instagram acquisition

By CNN Business' Donie O'Sullivan

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was confronted Wednesday about internal company emails he sent in 2012 about buying Instagram. The emails were acquired by the House Judiciary Committee as part of its antitrust investigation into large technology companies. 

In one email, Zuckerberg said Instagram could be “very disruptive” to Facebook. An email from Facebook’s chief financial officer referenced neutralizing a potential competitor, which Zuckerberg replied was part of the motivation.

Rep. Jerry Nadler said the emails showed Facebook viewed Instagram as a threat and, rather than compete with it, his company bought it.

In response, Zuckerberg did not deny he viewed Instagram as a threat, but pointed out that the deal was approved by the FTC at the time.

Watch more:

2:43 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

Tech CEOs appeal to American patriotism

By CNN Business' Rishi Iyengar

All the tech executives sought to drive home the point that their companies are by America, for America.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos referenced the "trust" Americans have in Amazon. "We need American workers to get products to American customers," he said in his prepared remarks.

"Apple is a uniquely American company whose success is only possible in this country," the company's chief executive Tim Cook said in his remarks, touting the number of US jobs it has helped create.

The US battle with China for tech supremacy informed part of Mark Zuckerberg's argument.

"If you look at where the top technology companies come from, a decade ago the vast majority were American," the Facebook CEO said. "Today, almost half are Chinese."

2:35 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

90 minutes in and Jeff Bezos has largely been ignored

From CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

Of the four tech CEOs appearing at today's hearing, none was more highly anticipated than Jeff Bezos, who has never appeared before Congress before.

And yet, nearly 90 minutes into the hearing, the world's richest man was essentially ignored -- other than his opening remarks. The House members instead focused their initial round of questions on the other CEOs.

In his opening remarks, Bezos focused on his upbringing and parents, and noted that 80% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Amazon.

At one point, Bezos, even appeared to have a snack during the hearing.

4:00 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

House Judiciary Committee Chairman: Should Instagram be spun off from Facebook?

From CNN Business' Brian Fung and Elana Zak

Should Instagram be broken off from Facebook? That's the question House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler posed to Mark Zuckerberg.

While Instagram is currently a giant platform with more than one billion monthly users, Zuckerberg noted that it was far from that when Facebook bought the startup for $1 billion in 2012.

It was not a guarantee that Instagram was going to succeed," Zuckerberg said.

"In hindsight, it looks obvious that Instagram reached the scale it has. At the time, it was far from obvious," he told the committee.

Zuckerberg pointed out that at the time of the Instagram acquisition, the Federal Trade Commission voted not to challenge the deal, implying that there was no anticompetitive concern. But today’s FTC is actively reviewing the last decade of tech acquisitions, and it could easily arrive at a different conclusion based on the way history played out.

Just because regulators did not perceive a competitive issue at the outset does not rule out future antitrust enforcement.

2:10 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

Is Google worried about Yelp?

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Chairman Cicilline cited documents from Google that he said showed company officials fretting about other websites.

"Google evolved from a turnstile to the rest of the web to a walled garden that increasingly keeps users within its sites,” Cicilline said.

He added: “Google’s staff discussed the ‘proliferating threat’ that these web pages posed to Google,” citing allegations that Google “stole content” from rivals such as Yelp. Yelp has long argued to policymakers that it has been negatively affected by Google’s business practices in search.

“One of Google’s memos observed that certain web sites were getting, and I quote, ‘too much traffic,’ so Google decided to put an end to that,” Cicilline said.

“Congressman, when I run the company, I’m really focused on giving users what they want,” said Pichai, who professed not to be familiar with the specifics of the allegations.