Apple and its App Store avoid being the focus of the investigation of the US Congress on technology

Apple stands in the global antitrust crosshairs - POLITICO

On July 29, representatives of the four most important technology companies appeared before the US Congress. Sundar Pichai for Alphabet (Google), Jeff Bezos for Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg for Facebook, and Tim Cook for Apple, a combined market capitalization of nearly $ 5.3 trillion compared to lawmakers in the world's most powerful country. The goal: to have their leaders testify in the context of an antitrust investigation.

High-level politics are rarely combined with the technology sector. Although it may be more and more frequent in recent years. Even though the four big companies were summoned to testify and that Apple is the largest of the four, those of Cupertino was not in the focus of the congressmen.

Apple dodges the limelight of the investigationThe Congressional Antitrust Subcommittee questioned the four big tech witnesses. In question turns of no more than five minutes, legislators asked questions in three rounds for a total of almost five and a half hours (it can be seen in its entirety here ). During their viewing, I wrote down how many questions were asked of each CEO, as well as the number of shifts each one received (in the same shift, a congressman could ask the same or several companies):

  • Amazon: 68 questions in 18 shifts.
  • Apple: 28 questions in 10 shifts.
  • Facebook: 69 questions in 19 shifts.
  • Google: 66 questions in 21 turns.
Although these figures already give us an idea of ​​where the focus was (or rather, where it was not), it can be useful to do a simple calculation of the ratio of questions in turns :
  • Amazon: 4.3 questions per shift.
  • Apple: 2.8 questions per turn.
  • Facebook: 3.6 questions per turn.
  • Google: 3.1 questions per turn.
The general feeling during the session is that Apple was not the main focus of the inquiries. Sometimes you wondered if Cook was still online because long periods went by without being asked questions . While the other three companies were constantly on the lips of lawmakers, with question after question to seize the time.

Jeff bezos

In a more subjective aspect, the CEOs performed very differently from each other. Specific:
  • Jeff Bezos: answered many questions stating that he was unaware of the case or the details of what was asked and ensuring that his team would seek the answer. It seems that he is quite disconnected from the day-to-day Amazon, possibly close to giving the baton to someone else.
  • Tim Cook: Along with Zuckerberg, he was noticeably experienced in these types of sessions. In general, he answered clearly and concisely.
  • Mark Zuckerberg - With experience similar to Cook. He tries to answer directly, although he often babbles.
  • Sundar Pichai: the CEO who has been on his back for the fewest years, his answers also resorted to consulting them later with his team.
The truth is that it was a very heterogeneous group and that without a doubt it has given rise to very significant differences in character. Two veterans of sessions before Congressmen (Cook and Zuckerberg) and two other rookies (Bezos and Pichai); two founders (Bezos and Zuckerberg) and two CEOs who rose internally (Cook and Pichai); two that are probably close to retirement (Cook and Bezos) and two that still have quite a few years to go (Pichai and Zuckerberg).

Tim cook

The main topics of the subcommitteeIf you have not followed the antitrust movements closely, you will have been surprised by the topics covered in this session. The Congressmen had a lot of work behind them before moving on to question the CEOs of technology companies. They spoke with witnesses, customers, suppliers, and vendors before moving on to the highlight. Below we detail the arguments of the questions asked by the Congressmen.

Each of the companies had their approach to the questions. Amazon had to answer for various practices considered as monopolies. One of the most analyzed has been its alleged abuse of data obtained by sellers in the company's market, which Amazon uses to find out which are the best-selling products. A common practice among supermarkets, which know what products are sold and take advantage of it to sell their white label. However, Amazon went one step further, competing on price to pressure competitors out of the market (or acquire them).

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In the case of Google, several points were touched. From its power in the search market to the bias against conservative or Republican content, where several Congressmen accused the company of demonetizing YouTube channels or knocking them down from the rankings of results in Google. In this sense, several of them focused on an exchange of emails related to the 2016 elections where executives showed supporters of the Democrats indecisive states in the vote. Not to mention certain contracts with the Pentagon that Google terminated due to internal protests. And the suspicions of collaboration with the Chinese regime (another point of intense interest).

The App Store and Cook's mistake

Although Apple was clearly a company that was there for its size rather than its alleged wrongdoing, that doesn't mean it was a walk-in Apple Park. Cook showed poise and responded forcefully, in general, to different aspects of the App Store. About it, the Subcommittee asked two main points.

The first about the App Store commission, an issue on which legislators were not very clear about its operation. To the point that one of them believed that the first year the commission was 0%, the next 15% and from the second 30%. When it doesn't, Cook made it clear that 86% of apps pay nothing, that 14% are subject to a 30% commission. For subscriptions, 30% drops to 15% by the first year.

How Congress can step up on innovative technology issues | TheHill

The main concern about this commission was the possibility that the rules would be changed so that more categories of apps would have to pay it. Cook responded by first saying that they were never going to do that, that they had in fact excluded more categories from being paid for.. And he also added a point of great interest: it is that Apple competes not only for customers (customer market share) but also for the efforts of developers (developer market share). The App Store is not the only way to distribute the software, but there are game consoles like PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch, platforms like Windows and Android, that compete for your attention. According to the CEO, Apple cannot pressure developers because that would end up pushing them to other markets, hurting its platform.

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