The Big Tech hearing was a good day for democracy

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Let’s talk first about video backgrounds. I liked Sundar Pichai’s the best by far. It was all smooth-credenza sleek, with a few for-show books and that funky chevron-patterned modern artwork on the wall. Jeff Bezos’s book case was nice. Mark Zuckerberg’s boring backdrop explained a man hellbent on domination, not a design aesthetic. Tim Cook’s almost equally boring choice was shocking only because Apple is easily more design-focused than Google, Amazon, or Facebook.

Oh, wait, you came here for analysis about the hearing, not its imagery.

I get that. Little surprised. I actually thought it was a good day for democracy, if not cordiality. Congressional investigators have shown they can dig up dirt on the behemoths that likely will be grist for more focused examiners at the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission, and in Brussels. But if mergers are to be undone or giants are to be punished for abusing their concentrated power, then Congress will need to write new antitrust laws. (I’d vote for them passing comprehensive immigration reform and universal health care first.) The president’s hollow, shallow, and meaningless threat to deal with Big Tech through an executive order can easily be ignored.

Why a good day for democracy? Because in the United States, no company is above the law, and no CEO is too rich or powerful to be condescended to by the people’s representatives. Some are better informed than others, of course. But that’s broadly true for the country too. It is a rare day when Pichai, Bezos, Zuckerberg, or Cook are summarily cut off before they’ve had a chance to finish speaking. My preference would be for civility, but rough treatment is probably a good thing for these guys from time to time.

So what was accomplished? The American people—and anyone with an Internet connection—got to see for themselves why elected officials believe Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple abuse their power. (And those companies got in their constitutionally guaranteed PR talking points about the good they do for humanity.)

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A reader who’s a real killjoy but who also is right emailed to ask if we would correct Aaron’s clever subject line the other day, “The Zoom where it happens,” referring to Wednesday’s hearings. In fact, the witnesses appeared via Cisco’s Webex platform, not Zoom. [I’ll switch to: Everyone knows it’s Webex–Aaron]

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Speaking of corrections, Lo Toney, the new Brainstorm Tech outside co-chair, graciously informs me I’m neither the first person, nor, he assumes, the last, to incorrectly write the name of his investment firm, Plexo Capital.  I wrote “Plaxo,” which is the name of an early online-address book company that Comcast bought and ultimately shut down. Sorry, Lo.

Adam Lashinsky

@adamlashinsky

[email protected]

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.

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