One year ago, shortly after representatives from Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple had appeared at a House subcommittee hearing to answer questions about potential antitrust allegations, the U.S. Justice Department opened a broad investigation of “market-leading online platforms”, aiming to review whether and how they “have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.” 12 months later, the chief executives of the aforementioned companies will appear before said subcommittee (albeit virtually) to testify and make their respective company’s case.
In statements released ahead of Wednesday’s hearings, all four CEOs emphasized their company’s commitment to the United States and their contribution to the U.S. economy while downplaying their position in the competitive landscape. Apple’s chief Tim Cook for example stated that his company does “not have a dominant market share in any market where we do business,” which may be true in terms of sheer market share, but is certainly debatable in terms of market power.
“These platforms have been allowed to run wild and free from really any constraints,” Rep. David Cicilline, the subcommittee chairman, said in an interview quoted by the Wall Street Journal. “The responsibility we have is to make clear what the impacts are of the lack of competition in the digital marketplace.”
In recent years, calls for regulation of “big tech” have gotten louder, with proponents of government action arguing that the companies mentioned above have become too powerful and need to be scrutinized and possibly reined in by the government. To prevent such a thing from happening and make their case on Capitol Hill, tech companies have ramped up their lobbying spending significantly over the past decade. As the following chart, based on public data tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics, shows, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple spent a combined total of $54.5 million on D.C. lobbying over the past twelve months, up 35 percent from 2015 and nearly 500 percent compared to 2010. According to figures filed with the Senate Office of Public Records this year, both Facebook and Amazon spent a record amount on lobbying in the first six months of 2020, as they are bracing for the so-called “techlash”.