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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Zuckerberg, Pichai said to be open to testifying to congress

Antitrust scrutiny of giant technology companies is accelerating. Facebook and Google both face competition probes by federal enforcers and nearly all 50 states.

By: Bloomberg | June 17, 2020 10:14:43 pm
Facebook, Google, Alphabet, Google Congress testimony, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, Google case, Facebook case The commitments to send Zuckerberg and Pichai, which the companies have relayed to the panel, were conditioned on appearances by the other CEOs, the people said. (Image: Bloomberg)

Facebook Inc Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Alphabet Inc CEO Sundar Pichai are willing to testify before a congressional panel investigating competition issues in the technology industry, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Apple Inc hasn’t guaranteed it would make Tim Cook available to the House antitrust panel, said the people, who asked not to be named describing the talks. Amazon.com Inc has already said it would send Jeff Bezos to testify “at a hearing with the other CEOs this summer.” That would mark Bezos’ first appearance before Congress.

The commitments to send Zuckerberg and Pichai, which the companies have relayed to the panel, were conditioned on appearances by the other CEOs, the people said.

Spokespeople for the companies either declined to comment or didn’t respond to requests. A spokesman for Representative David Cicilline, the Rhode Island Democrat leading the probe, declined to comment.

The Washington Post reported earlier on the willingness of Zuckerberg and Pichai, who is also CEO of Alphabet’s Google unit, to testify.

Apple’s position — that it will send an appropriate executive, without promising Cook — mirrors Amazon’s earlier reluctance to send its chief and could provoke a clash between the company and the lawmakers taking part in the probe. In Amazon’s case, Cicilline repeatedly threatened to subpoena Bezos, although the company ultimately backed down and agreed to send him voluntarily.

Cicilline may want to hear from the CEOs soon: He has said he wants to include their testimony in a final report that would propose changes to antitrust law. He has said the investigation and report are close to being finished.

William Kovacic, a professor of competition law at George Washington University Law School, said Cicilline wants a live hearing with testimony from all four CEOs to build public support for stepped-up legislative oversight of tech companies and to pressure the antitrust agencies to pursue aggressive lawsuits or investigations. The goal is “to goad the enforcement agencies,” Kovacic said in a recent interview.

Antitrust scrutiny of giant technology companies is accelerating. Facebook and Google both face competition probes by federal enforcers and nearly all 50 states. Amazon is under investigation in California, Bloomberg has reported, and both the e-commerce giant and Apple are facing scrutiny in the EU.

Last September, Cicilline’s subcommittee sent extensive document requests to the four companies seeking detailed information about acquisitions, business practices, executive communications, previous probes and lawsuits.

Unlike Bezos, the other CEOs have been questioned at Congressional hearings before. Zuckerberg testified after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which Facebook allowed the harvesting of personal data of millions of users without their permission in 2018, and about the company’s digital currency, Libra, the following year. Pichai also testified in 2018 on allegations that the company is politically biased in its treatment of content. Tim Cook testified in 2013 about the company’s payment of taxes.

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