Today is a big day for Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, not to mention all the companies who rely on their ecosystems of devices, app stores, ad platforms and other services. The CEOs of the ‘Big Four’ will be testifying at a hearing of the US subcommittee on antitrust, commercial, and administrative law, where they’ll be grilled about their dominance of the tech landscape, and the knock-on effects for other companies.
This is all very relevant for the music industry, given Spotify’s complaints against Apple – currently the subject of a formal investigation in Europe. With that in mind, it may be worth sparing some time this morning to read the opening witness statements from Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg, which have been published ahead of the hearing later today.
Cook’s statement doesn’t mention Spotify by name, but does refer to some of its complaints about its cut of in-app purchases. “In the more than a decade since the App Store debuted, we have never raised the commission or added a single fee. In fact, we have reduced them for subscriptions and exempted additional categories of apps,” he’ll say. “After beginning with 500 apps, today the App Store hosts more than 1.7 million – only 60 of which are Apple software. Clearly, if Apple is a gatekeeper, what we have done is open the gate wider.”
Elsewhere, all four CEOs will be striking a similar note. “I believe Amazon should be scrutinized. We should scrutinize all large institutions, whether they’re companies, government agencies, or non-profits,” from Bezos. “I am here today because scrutiny is reasonable and appropriate,” from Cook. “More must be done to protect users across industries, which is why we’ve long supported the creation of comprehensive federal privacy laws,” from Pichai. “I’ve called for a more active role for governments and regulators and updated rules for the internet,” from Zuckerberg.
In other words, all four companies are delighted by the interest in their businesses being taken by politicians and regulators, and they absolutely welcome scrutiny and regulation… but of course, each has their own ideas about what that regulation should and shouldn’t be. It will be interesting to see if the subcommittee teases out some of their disagreements on that front.
As always, there’s a risk that some of the politicians will see the hearing simply as a chance to grandstand: to puff up to their full pomposity and give powerful tech CEOs a public telling off.”As I understand our laws, companies aren’t bad just because they are big,” Zuckerberg will tell them. But if the subcommittee does a good job of confronting the four CEOs with some of the ways they are accused of using their bigness for badness, the hearing should make compelling viewing.