Huge Tech firms Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google grilled over claims of 'destructive' power

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent

The bosses of some of the world's biggest tech companies have appeared before Washington lawmakers to defend claims that their companies have abused their power to quash competitors.

The powerful CEOs sought to defend their companies amid intense grilling by lawmakers on Wednesday.

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos said the world "needs large" firms, while the heads of Facebook, Apple and Google argued their companies had spurred innovation and essential services to consumers.

But they sometimes struggled to answer pointed questions about their business practices.

The appearance comes as lawmakers consider tougher regulation and competition probes are underway.

Big Tech CEOs tell Congress they do not stifle competition

They also confronted a range of other concerns about alleged political bias, their effect on U.S. democracy and their role in China.

The four CEOs were testifying remotely to lawmakers, most of whom were sitting, in masks, inside the hearing room in Washington.

Congressman David Cicilline, a Democrat leading the congressional committee holding the hearing, said a year-long investigation by lawmakers had revealed patterns of abuse by the online platforms.

"The dominant platforms have wielded their power in destructive, harmful ways in order to expand," he said.

Cicilline said that in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, “these giants stand to profit” and become even more powerful as millions shift more of their work and commerce online.

Regulators in the U.S. and Europe have scrutinised Amazon’s relationship with the businesses that sell on its site and whether the online shopping giant has been using data from the sellers to create its own private-label products.

"We have a policy against using seller specific data to aid our private label business," Bezos said in a response to a question from U.S Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat.

“But I can’t guarantee to you that that policy hasn’t been violated."

Google executive, Pichai struggled as Cicilline accused the company of leveraging its dominant search engine to steal ideas and information from other websites and manipulating its results to drive people to its own digital services to boost its profits.

Pichai repeatedly deflected Cicilline’s attacks by asserting that Google tries to provide the most helpful and relevant information to the hundreds of millions of people who use its search engine each day in an effort to keep them coming back instead of defecting to a rival service, such as Microsoft’s Bing.

Facebook's acquisition of Instagram also drew attention to Congress. Credit: PA

"Scrutiny is reasonable and appropriate," Apple boss Tim Cook said in prepared remarks.

"It's so competitive I would describe it as a street fight for market share in the smartphone business," he added.

Meanwhile several Republicans aired longstanding grievances that the tech companies are censoring conservative voices and questioned their business activities in China.

"I'll just cut to the chase - big tech is out to get conservatives," said Congressman Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio.Much of the attention focused on Google during the hearing, which lawmakers accused of having stolen content created by smaller firms, like Yelp, in order to keep users on their own website.

Facebook's acquisition of Instagram, Amazon's treatment of sellers on its site and Apple's App store also drew attention.

In a tweet before the hearing, President Donald Trump challenged Congress to crack down on the companies, which he has accused, without evidence, of bias against him and conservatives in general.

“If Congress doesn't bring fairness to Big Tech, which they should have done years ago, I will do it myself with Executive Orders," Trump tweeted.

The companies face legal and political offensives on multiplying fronts, from Congress, the Trump administration, federal and state regulators and European watchdogs.

The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission have been investigating the four companies’ practices.