There’s no shortage of material on this subject today, so we’ll get right to (our version of) the point.
First question: how’d it go overall? It wasn’t not a s#!tshow, but honestly, Congress did their homework this time and it shows. Most of what’s disappointing is that it had to be video-conferenced and we couldn’t see the four of them together in all of their uncomfortable glory. At least there’s something equalizing in knowing that even the World’s Most Important Videoconference isn’t immune to technical difficulties.
Second: how’d everyone do? Granting that we didn’t watch all 6 hours of it (we literally don’t have time for that), here are the general impressions:
Tim Cook: Calm, cool, collected. Apple and Cook got off the easiest here; Cook was asked 35 questions while the other three CEOs were asked about 60 each. Part of the reason, to Cook’s credit, was that he “looked the part” while answering questions and (we’d argue) gave the most palatable answers of the four. The other part is that the accusations levied against Apple (and Google) are hardest for laypeople to understand, especially in a quick sound bite; all Cook had to do was give a few good-sounding bites of his own and avoid saying anything stupid.
Sundar Pichai: Reasonable enough, frequently interrupted. Going into this hearing, Google had a bigger target on its back than Apple because (A) Google is the 90-Percent-Market-Share Mack Daddy of search, (B) they’re the biggest online advertiser, and (C) they’re in an excellent position to bias the information people find, whether or not they actually do so. Fortunately for Pichai, the day’s main sideshow—the allegations of Big Tech’s anti-conservative bias—happened during his time and could only make him look better by comparison. (Congressional shouting matches are fun. The COVID twist is new.)
the Zuck: Hoo boy. First of all, did Zuck join this meeting from a barn? We read something last night comparing his setup to a hostage negotiation and we choked on our coffee. Secondly: Zuck was one of their favorite targets because (A) both sides of the aisle bear a grudge against Facebook, (B) he has a killing spree’s worth of shady acquisitions over the past decade, which is naturally relevant to an antitrust hearing, and (C) Congress had sharp, direct, sound-bite-able questions for which Zuck could not possibly have prepared good answers.
Like: “Do you copy your competitors?” 😬
You can see the light go out of Zuck’s eyes right before he starts stammering through a rehearsed answer.
Jeff Bezos: They definitely saved him for later. Jeff definitely tried to strap on some pads with his Opening Statement, which he published on Amazon’s blog the day before; he tries to humanize himself and spin Amazon’s “little story” with his own pathos-laden rags-to-riches yarn. He didn’t get many questions for a good long while, but he got the lion’s share towards the end. Honestly, Congress did a better job of showing Amazon’s anti-competitive practices than taking Bezos to task for them… he couldn’t promise that Amazon wasn’t abusing third-party seller data (the first crack in Amazon’s dam of denial), but otherwise he stayed in the pocket of his stock answers and waited for the bell.
Third and finally: any advice for the Big Tech CEOs of the future? Yes. Don’t leave a paper trail. After this hearing, it is 100% official: if you write sketchy things in an email, there’s a good chance a member of Congress will read it back to you someday.