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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6:23 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

The four most powerful CEOs in tech have some thoughts on cancel culture

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Jeff Bezos took a swipe at social media, calling it a “nuance destruction machine” as Rep. Jordan pressed the four CEOs to address “cancel culture.”

It appears to me that social media is a nuance destruction machine, and I don’t think that’s helpful for a democracy,” Bezos told Jordan.

Zuckerberg reiterated a point he has long articulated, which is that he sees “forces of illiberalism … in this country that are pushing against free expression.” Facebook has been criticized for failing to moderate its platform enough, and also criticized for allegedly censoring conservatives.

Jordan raised a famous 1984 Apple Super Bowl ad urging consumers to “Think different,” invoking the ad to argue that “mob think, cancel culture, group think is not what this country is about, and we are seeing it play out every single [day].”

“I remember it very well,” Cook said, referring to the ad and steering clear of the political discussion. “It was Apple versus IBM at the time.”

Pichai, for his part, said he had a “momentary difficulty hearing” Jordan’s question, but said Google builds platforms that allow for freedom of expression.

You can watch some of the Apple Super Bowl ad if you skip to 2:15 in the video below.

6:01 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

Facebook tool for gathering intel on potential competitors comes under scrutiny

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Rep. Johnson zeroed in on Facebook’s use of Onavo, a VPN app that Facebook acquired in 2013, to gather competitive intelligence on potential future competitors. Critics have said the tactic could have given Facebook the information it would need to identify and snuff out new threats to its business.

Zuckerberg defended the practice as merely an attempt at consumer research.

“Every company engages in research to understand what their customers are enjoying so that they can learn and make their products better,” he said. “That’s what we were trying to do, that’s what our analytics team was doing, and I think in general, that allowed us to make our services better for people… which is our goal.”

“Did you use that capability to purchase WhatsApp?” Johnson asked.

“Congressman,” Zuckerberg replied, “it was one of the signals that we had about WhatsApp’s trajectory, but we didn’t need it — without that, it was pretty clear that WhatsApp was a great product.”

6:21 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

'Mr. Bezos, I believe you're on mute'

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

It only took four and a half hours, but as the hearing neared its close, it finally happened: “Mr. Bezos, I believe you’re on mute.”

Tech titans, they're just like us!

5:55 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

Zuckerberg grilled over viral video with false coronavirus claims

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Zuckerberg was pressed on a video that went viral this week containing false and misleading claims about coronavirus. Though Facebook eventually took it down, the video racked up millions of views.

“Doesn’t that suggest, Mr. Zuckerberg, your platform is so big that even with the right policies in place, you can’t contain deadly content?” Rep. Cicilline asked.

Zuckerberg said he didn’t think so.

“We have, on Covid misinformation in particular, a relatively good track record of fighting and taking down lots of false content,” Zuckerberg said, “as well as putting up authoritative information. We have built a Covid information center with authoritative information from health officials.”

A Facebook spokesperson acknowledged on Tuesday that it took "several hours" for the company to enforce its standards and remove the video. The spokesperson said Facebook will conduct "a review to understand why this took longer than it should have."

5:49 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

Zuckerberg pressed on how Facebook grants competitors access to its platform

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Rep. Demings cited an employee who said: “I am 100% in favor of removing [Facebook’s API access] from Pinterest, but I am not recommending removing it from Netflix going forward.”

“Why would Facebook product managers want to restrict Pinterest’s access to Facebook, but not Netflix?” Demings asked Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg responded that Facebook “used to have a policy that restricted competitors from using our platform, and Pinterest is a social competitor with us.”

Demings said Zuckerberg’s reply seemed to indicate that Facebook is willing to use its platform policies to discriminate against and undermine competitors.

5:09 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

Amazon defines data as aggregated -- even when there are only two sellers involved

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Rep. Kelly Armstrong asked Jeff Bezos a series of important questions about how Amazon uses data from third-party sellers.

While Bezos had previously said it is against the rules for employees to give Amazon’s own products an advantage using data from individual sellers, they are not prohibited from using “aggregate” data — that is, data compiled from multiple sellers.

Armstrong drilled down, getting Bezos to concede that “aggregate” could mean as few as two sellers — implying that it might be possible for employees to guess at which data was whose when trying to position Amazon products more advantageously.

4:51 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

Entering hour three

We're back for a third round of questions after a brief recess.

4:52 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

Bezos on counterfeit goods on Amazon: I'd rather lose a sale than lose a customer

From CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

When pressed by Rep. Hank Johnson about counterfeit goods available on Amazon -- from bogus medicine to car tires and dangerous kids products -- Bezos said the company does "a lot" to prevent the issue, including investments of "hundreds of millions of dollars" into systems to prevent it and a team of more than 1,000 people who address what he described as a "scourge."

Johnson said third-party sellers and brands have said the company has used knockoffs as leverage to pressure sellers into doing what "Amazon wants." For example, the founder of PopSockets testified in January that Amazon itself was selling knockoffs of its product. The company reported the issue, but said it wasn't until PopSockets committed to spending $2 million on ads that Amazon appeared to stop diverting sales to the knockoffs. Bezos responded: "That's unacceptable. ... I will look into that."

Bezos also said he would rather "lose a sale than lose a customer" when Johnson pointed out that Amazon profits from counterfeit sales.

4:49 p.m. ET, July 29, 2020

Here are winners and losers of the tech hearing, so far

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

As the hearing enters its third hour, here are a few quick impressions of which CEOs are having the best and worst day so far:

Jeff Bezos has done himself the fewest favors. He acknowledged, albeit earnestly and transparently, that Amazon may have improperly used third-party seller data -- a key concern over the company's approach to competition.

Tim Cook has gotten off pretty lightly. Despite some earlier questions about whether Apple favors certain developers on its App Store, there have been relatively few questions about Apple’s App Store guidelines for developers, which have been a main complaint among critics.

Mark Zuckerberg has received much of the lawmakers’ attention, particularly on Facebook’s acquisition strategy. There have also been some damning documents and emails introduced that could pose problems for Facebook in the months ahead. But Zuckerberg, who has been grilled by Congress before, appears comfortable and eager to engage.

Sundar Pichai’s performance has been marked by a struggle with how to deflect conservative lawmakers’ allegations of anti-conservative bias -- an issue that is not directly relevant to the antitrust probe.

On the lawmakers’ side, some of the most effective questioning has come from Reps. Cicilline, Jayapal, Raskin and Neguse, who have demonstrated a clear grasp of the economic issues and how they may relate to antitrust law and competition.