NPR’s Ari Shapiro talks with Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, about the testimony of four Big Tech CEOs.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
For more than a year, Congress has been investigating the giants of tech. The fear is that these companies have gotten too big. This antitrust investigation has gathered 1.3 million documents as evidence. And this week, it all came to a head as the leaders of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google testified before a House committee over video chat, of course. All four of those companies are NPR sponsors. The chair, Democrat David Cicilline of Rhode Island, said these companies have too much power.
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DAVID CICILLINE: This investigation also goes to the heart of whether we as a people govern ourselves or whether we let ourselves be governed by private monopolies.
SHAPIRO: Congressman Cicilline has been leading the investigation and joins us now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
CICILLINE: Thank you. It’s great to be with you.
SHAPIRO: So after a year-plus of this investigation, what did you learn from this hearing that you didn’t know before?
CICILLINE: I think what we mostly heard was the things that we have been very focused on in terms of the market dominance of these platforms. And using that market dominance to favor their own products and services, to bully competitors, to weaponize data, to harm consumer privacy and a variety of other anti-competitive behaviors were really acknowledged by these four witnesses. They really didn’t have any defense to many of the business practices that were the subject of the questions.
And so, you know, we will now complete the process of writing a report that will describe this digital marketplace broadly and then make some recommendations in terms of legislation and regulatory action to get competition back into the digital marketplace.
SHAPIRO: What you’re saying sounds very damning. But after the hearing ended, stocks went up for most of these companies. Does that suggest that the punches failed to land?
CICILLINE: Oh, no, not at all. I mean, look – I think that’s further evidence that these four companies have monopoly power. So it doesn’t surprise me that, in the middle of a global health pandemic, they are, you know, growing their market power.
SHAPIRO: You say Congress needs to take action to infuse competition into the marketplace. Do you know what that looks like?
CICILLINE: Well, I mean, there’s a number of things we can do. I mean, one is obviously structural remedies. One is breaking up companies. You know, Facebook – I think it’s clear from the hearing – should have never been permitted to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp. You know, putting in place a set of prohibitions against favoring your own products and services – you know, Amazon is an example. Mr. Bezos could not assure us that the information that they collect from third-party sellers was not being used to guide Amazon’s development of its own product line and marketing.
SHAPIRO: So socks are selling well, and Amazon says, it sounds like we should be manufacturing socks.
CICILLINE: Right. We’ve heard from a number of small businesses about the bullying of Amazon, but they feel like they have no choice. You know, they control a vast majority of online sales. And frankly, most small businesses say, if you’re not on Amazon, you can’t survive. So they’re using their market power, their dominance, to bully competitors, to give unfair advantage to them. And that can only happen because of the size and the power they have in the marketplace.
SHAPIRO: Your Republican counterpart, Jim Sensenbrenner, had a different perspective, and I want to listen to part of what he had to say at this hearing.
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JIM SENSENBRENNER: I have reached the conclusion that we do not need to change our antitrust laws. They have been working just fine. The question here is the question of enforcement of those antitrust laws.
SHAPIRO: So do you think that the Democrats and the Republicans are on the same page here?
CICILLINE: You know, the investigation has been very bipartisan all throughout. And I think that everyone recognizes the very serious challenges in the digital marketplace. I disagree a little bit with Mr. Sensenbrenner in that I don’t think the antitrust laws have been working fine. I agree with him that there hasn’t been good enforcement.
And so the question is, do the existing antitrust laws provide enough assistance to antitrust enforcers to actually get the job done? Do we need folks that are creative and sufficiently enthusiastic about this work? Do the antitrust agencies have the resources they need? That’s one of the things we’re going to look at. My sense is that we’re going to have to modernize and update our antitrust statutes in some way to more accurately reflect the kind of competition challenges we face in the digital marketplace.
SHAPIRO: These companies are still very popular with the American people. Do you worry that you’re on the wrong side of public opinion here?
CICILLINE: No, this isn’t about popularity. I think people are beginning to understand that these platforms have monopoly power and that monopolies are not good for our democracy. They’ve never been. We’ve always been in this battle between democracy and private monopolies. And I think we have a responsibility to make that case to the American people, and I think part of our report will be dedicated to why this matters to folks.
SHAPIRO: That’s Congressman David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, chair of the House antitrust subcommittee. Thank you for speaking with us today.
CICILLINE: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
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