Big Tech’s big week: Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google on the hot seat in Washington, D.C.

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Life-sized cutouts of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared on the Capitol lawn before his testimony before Congress in 2018. (Flickr Photo / Joe Flood)

Execs from four of the top tech companies in the country will descend on Washington D.C. on Tuesday for a big antitrust hearing amid calls for stricter regulation of the industry.

The hearing: Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple are sending representatives to answer questions from the House Judiciary Committee during Tuesday’s hearing, titled “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 2: Innovation and Entrepreneurship.” Key topics include the dominance of big tech companies and whether the current toolkit for regulating the industry is adequate.

Who’s who: In-house public policy and legal experts from each company will testify at the hearing. They include Google’s Adam Cohen, Facebook’s Matt Perault, Amazon’s Nate Sutton, and Apple’s Kyle Andeer. The committee will also hear from academics and trade groups. The Judiciary Committee’s antitrust wing, which is leading the hearing, includes Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state. Jayapal represents Amazon’s hometown, Seattle, and surrounding areas.

Big picture: The issues surrounding Big Tech may be front-and-center this week but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything will change in the near future, at least in the U.S. After Cambridge Analytica there appeared to be enough pressure to push federal privacy regulations through but progress has slowed as Congress’s August recess approaches. Meanwhile, the European Union has emerged as a leader in tech regulation, passing sweeping privacy protections known as GDPR and fining American tech companies billions of dollars.

The backdrop: Late last week, the Federal Trade Commission hit Facebook with a long-rumored $5 billion fine — the biggest financial penalty the U.S. government has ever levied against a tech company. But several lawmakers are unimpressed, calling the penalty a slap on the wrist. Their dissatisfaction shows how serious some members of Congress are about reining in the tech industry, an issue with rare bipartisan support. Calls for regulation have grown louder in the wake of scandals and missteps that have shaken American confidence in the industry. The infamous Cambridge Analytica breach first prompted the FTC to investigate Facebook’s privacy practices which culminated more than a year later with the fine. Tech’s dominance has also become a focal point in the 2020 presidential race.

What they’re saying: Amazon isn’t commenting directly on the hearing. A spokesperson pointed to stats on the competitors Amazon faces in the various businesses in which it operates. Google is also staying quiet, referring to previous comments from CEO Sundar Pichai in which he addressed antitrust concerns.

“There are many countries around the world which aspire to be the next Silicon Valley,” Pichai said in a June interview with CNN. “We have to balance both. This doesn’t mean we don’t scrutinize large companies but you have to balance it with the fact that you want big, successful companies as well.” Pichar also noted that “for some of the other companies maybe the scrutiny is newer but for us, we’ve had this for a while.”

Facebook and Apple did not respond to requests to comment on the hearing by our deadline.

Related: From ‘evil empire’ to model citizen? How Microsoft’s good deeds work to its competitive advantage

Conspicuously absent: The most valuable company in the word is not on the roster for the hearing despite the focus on corporate dominance. After its own antitrust battle in the 1990s, Microsoft has managed to escape the current wave of scrutiny largely unscathed.

Meanwhile: Facebook vice president David Marcus is testifying Tuesday morning on a separate topic: Libra. The social network is venturing into cryptocurrency and lawmakers have tough questions. “It takes a breathtaking amount of arrogance to look at that track record and think, ‘you know what we ought to do next? Let’s run our own bank,’” said Sen. Sherrod Brown in his prepared remarks.



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