Big Tech is likely to defend its dominance by pointing to the alternative: China

July 29, 2020, 8:45 AM UTC

Reducing the power of American tech giants would be a huge win for China.

That is, at least, the argument Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will lay out when he and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Apple CEO Tim Cook appear before an antitrust hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, according to pre-submitted opening statements.

At the hearing, lawmakers are expected to grill the four CEOs, who run companies worth a combined $5 trillion, over their market dominance and anticompetitive behaviors in the highest-profile effort thus far to highlight the influence of Big Tech. Many lawmakers argue that the four companies hold far too much sway.

The CEOs appear prepared to defend themselves in part by arguing that their firms need to maintain their current heft in order to promote American tech values and fend off Chinese competition.

“Facebook is a proudly American company. We believe in values—democracy, competition, inclusion and free expression—that the American economy was built on,” Zuckerberg said in his statement. “Many other tech companies share these values, but there’s no guarantee our values will win out. For example, China is building its own version of the Internet focused on very different ideas, and they are exporting their vision to other countries.”

In issuing opening statements, Zuckerberg was alone among his peers in so starkly presenting American tech firms as ideological counterweights to the rise of Chinese tech.

But with less explicit references to China, the other CEOs argued that maintaining the status of American tech giants is key to ensuring U.S. tech keeps its edge globally.

Pichai said that Google’s continued success on the global stage “is not guaranteed” and is important to “maintain America’s competitive technological edge in the world.”

Amazon’s Bezos cites competition from the Chinese online retailer Alibaba in defending his firm’s position, and Apple’s Cook mentioned telecoms and smartphone maker Huawei as a fellow player in the global device market.

The CEOs’ arguments are not necessarily new. In fact, Zuckerberg told Congress last October that lawmakers’ efforts to thwart Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency would create an opening for China’s digital currency efforts. But Wednesday’s hearing will give the executives an opportunity to deliver such defenses on a grand stage and against an anti-China backdrop. Congress, for instance, is currently weighing a ban of TikTok, the hugely popular short video platform, due to its Chinese owner and alleged ties to Beijing (which the app denies). Concerns about Beijing’s influence—politically and technologically—is one of the few issues on which Democrats and Republicans agree. Any effort by the CEOs to paint their firms as an answer to Beijing’s ascendency could find a receptive audience.