WASHINGTON (AP) — Four Big Tech CEOs — Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Sundar Pichai of Google and Tim Cook of Apple — are set to answer for their companies’ practices before Congress as a House panel caps its yearlong investigation of market dominance in the industry.
The four command corporations with gold-plated brands, millions or even billions of customers, and a combined value greater than the entire German economy. One of them is the world’s richest individual (Bezos); another is the fourth-ranked billionaire (Zuckerberg). Their industry has transformed society, linked people around the globe, mined and commercialized users’ personal data, and infuriated critics on both the left and right over speech.
Critics question whether the companies, grown increasingly powerful after gobbling up scores of rivals, stifle competition and innovation, raise prices for consumers and pose a danger to society.
The four CEOs are testifying remotely for a hearing Wednesday by the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust.
In its bipartisan investigation, the panel collected testimony from mid-level executives of the four firms, competitors and legal experts, and pored over more than a million internal documents from the companies. A key question: whether existing competition policies and century-old antitrust laws are adequate for overseeing the tech giants, or if new legislation and enforcement funding is needed.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, has called the four companies monopolies, although he says breaking them up should be a last resort. While forced breakups may appear unlikely, the wide scrutiny of Big Tech points toward possible new restrictions on its power.
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.
Each company has a distinct profile and sets its widening footprint in specific markets, and each tech titan has his own approach and story to tell.
For Bezos, who presides over an e-commerce empire and ventures in cloud computing, personal “smart” tech and beyond, it will be his first-ever appearance before Congress.
Bezos is introducing himself, in a way, in his hearing testimony, unusual for the occasion. He lays out his challenging life story growing up in New Mexico as the son of a single mother in high school, and later with an adoptive father who emigrated from Cuba at 16. Previewing his written testimony in a blog post Tuesday, Bezos traces his origins as a “garage inventor” who came up with the concept of an online bookstore in 1994.
He addresses the issue of Amazon’s power in what he describes as a huge and competitive global retail market. The company accounts for less than 4% of retail in the U.S., Bezos maintains. He affirms his rebuff to critics who call for the company to be broken up: Walmart is more than twice Amazon’s size, he says.
Bezos initially declined to testify unless he could appear with the other CEOs. He’ll likely face questioning over a Wall Street Journal report that found Amazon employees used confidential data collected from sellers on its online marketplace to develop competing products. At a previous hearing, an Amazon executive denied such accusation
In the wake of George Floyd’s death and protests against racial injustice, Facebook’s handling of hate speech has recently drawn more fire than issues of competition and privacy, especially after Facebook’s refusal to take action on inflammatory Trump posts that spread misinformation about voting by mail and, critics said, encouraged violence against protesters.
Zuckerberg has said the company aims to allow as much free expression as possible unless it causes imminent risk of specific harms or damage. “We believe in values —democracy, competition, inclusion and free expression — that the American economy was built on,” he says in his testimony prepared for the hearing.
“I understand that people have concerns about the size and perceived power that tech companies have,” Zuckerberg’s statement says. “Ultimately, I believe companies shouldn’t be making so many judgments about important issues like harmful content, privacy and election integrity on their own. That’s why I’ve called for a more active role for governments and regulators, and updated rules for the internet.”
European regulators have concluded that Google manipulated its search engine to gain an unfair advantage over other online shopping sites in the e-commerce market, and fined Google, whose parent is Alphabet Inc., a record $2.7 billion. Google has disputed the findings and is appealing.
Attorneys general from both parties in 50 states and territories, led by Texas, launched an antitrust investigation of Google in September, focused on its online advertising business.
“Google operates in highly competitive and dynamic global markets, in which prices are free or falling, and products are constantly improving,” Pichai says in his written testimony. “Competition in ads — from Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Comcast and others — has helped lower online advertising costs by 40% over the last 10 years, with these savings passed down to consumers through lower prices.”
Apple, whose iPhone is the third-largest seller in the world, faces EU investigations over the fees charged by its App Store and technical limitations that allegedly shut out competitors to Apple Pay.
“Apple does not have a dominant market share in any market where we do business,” Cook says.
He is making the case that the fees Apple charges apps to sell services and other goods are reasonable, especially compared with what other tech companies collect.
In over a decade since the App Store launched, “we have never raised the commission or added a single fee,” Cook says in his testimony.
Pak PM’s advisor resigns after facing flak for possessing assets worth millions of dollars
Islamabad : Tania Aidrus, special assistant to the prime minister (SAPM) on Digital Pakistan, has submitted her resignation following Pakistan government releasing a list of top 20 aides admitting to owning movable and immovable assets worth millions of dollars abroad, Geo News reported.
“Criticism levied towards the state as a consequence of my citizenship status is clouding the purpose of Digital Pakistan. In the greater public interest, I have submitted my resignation from the SAPM role. I will continue to serve my country and the PM’s vision to my best ability,” Aidrus tweeted. Recently, six advisors of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan possessing dual citizenships and several of top 20 aides had admitted of owning movable and immovable assets worth millions of dollars abroad.
According to a Gulf News report, the list was published on the official website of Pakistan government’s cabinet division.
All the dual nationals were working as SAPM. These people include SAPM on Overseas Pakistanis Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari (UK), SAPM on Power Division Shahzad Qasim (US), SAPM on Petroleum Nadeem Babar (US), SAPM on Political Affairs Shahbaz Gill (US), SAPM on Parliamentary Coordination Nadeem Afzal Gondal (Canada) and SAPM on Digital Pakistan Tania Aidrus (Canadian citizenship by birth).
Giving further details, the Gulf News reported that Aidrus owns four properties abroad — two in the US and one each in the UK and Singapore — with a value of Rs 454 million. While her properties in Singapore and the US are under mortgage, she has no property in Pakistan. Her bank accounts both in Pakistan and abroad are worth Rs 25 million and she owns a Toyota Fortuner vehicle.
The list on PM Imran Khan’s advisors possessing dual nationalities had sparked strong criticisms by the Opposition leaders. (ANI)
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo’s ex-wife donates USD 1.7 billion for social causes
Washington [US], July 29 (ANI): MacKenzie Scott, former wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, announced on Tuesday (local time) that she has donated around USD 1.7 billion to groups involved in philanthropic causes such as healthcare, LGBT rights and racial justice.
Scott, who said she changed her surname after her divorce from Bezos last year, wrote in a post shared on Medium — an online publishing platform — said she pledged to give a majority of her wealth “back to the society that helped generate it”, The Hill reported. The 50-year-old’s net worth is USD 60.4 billion, making her the 13th wealthiest person on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
“Like many, I watched the first half of 2020 with a mixture of heartbreak and horror. Life will never stop finding fresh ways to expose inequities in our systems or waking us up to the fact that a civilisation this imbalanced is not only unjust but also unstable. What fills me with hope is the thought of what will come if each of us reflects on what we can offer,” she said.
“Opportunities that flowed from the mere chance of skin colour, sexual orientation, gender or zip code may have yielded resources that can be powerful levers for change,” she added.
Scott said she instructed a team of non-profit advisors last fall to identify “organisations having a major impact on a variety of causes”.
Her post included a break-up of where the money, which has been allocated, with over USD 586 million focussed on racial equality and USD 125 million dedicated to fighting climate change.
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the George W Bush Presidential Center, Advancement Project and Educate Girls are some of the non-profit groups, which have received the donations, according to The Hill.
The divorce between Bezos, the world’s richest man and Scott reportedly gave her 25 per cent of Bezo’s Amazon stocks, making her one of the wealthiest women in the world.
In May last year, Scott signed the Giving Pledge, a campaign to encourage extremely wealthy people to contribute a majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.
This was founded by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda in 2010. Over 200 of the wealthiest people across the globe have signed the pledge.
However, Bezos, who has not participated in the initiative, announced the launch of Bezos Earth Fund earlier this year, an initiative which will commit USD 10 billion to tackle climate change. (ANI)
Vice Minister of Culture and Tourism under investigation
BEIJING : Vice Minister of Culture and Tourism Li Jinzao is being investigated for suspected serious violations of discipline and law, China’s top anti-graft body said on Wednesday.
The investigation into Li, who is also deputy secretary of the leading Party members’ group of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, is being carried out by the Communist Party of China Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the National Supervisory Commission.
Japan’s weather agency warns of further flooding in northeast
TOKYO : Japan’s weather agency on Wednesday urged residents of Yamagata Prefecture in northeastern Japan to remain on alert for further flooding due to recent torrential rain causing a major river to bust its banks from Tuesday.
The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said that the Mogami River in the prefecture breached its banks at five different points from Tuesday to Wednesday, further flooding, as well as landslides, were still possible.
The agency urged people in the region to remain vigilant and avoid rivers in low-lying areas as water levels in the flooded Mogami and other rivers remain high.
Northeastern Japan was pummeled by record levels of rain on Tuesday as a result of unstable atmospheric conditions, the JMA said.
The agency has warned that the unstable weather front was likely to continue, affecting regions in both eastern and western Japan and could cause more flooding due to heavy localized downpours and thunderstorms.
The JMA has also warned of possible lightning strikes and powerful tornado-like winds in the affected areas.
Mongolia to reopen kindergartens, schools on Sept. 1
ULAN BATOR, The Mongolian government on Wednesday said all kindergartens and general educational schools across the country would open on Sept. 1.
Mongolia will restart classes for students of vocational training and production centers on Sept. 14, while university students will return to classes on Oct. 5, the government’s press office said in a statement.
Mongolian Prime Minister Ukhnaa Khurelsukh has ordered all relevant officials to make full preparations for the reopening to ensure the safety of the students and teachers, it said.
The Asian country has closed all educational organizations since January as part of the measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The country has confirmed 291 COVID-19 cases so far, with no local transmissions and deaths.
Union Cabinet approves National Education Policy 2020, GER to be raised to 50 pc by 2035
New Delhi : The Union Cabinet on Tuesday approved National Education Policy 2020 bringing major reforms in higher education including a target of 50 per cent Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) by 2035 and provision for multiple entry and exits.
Addressing a press conference here, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said a 21st century National Education Policy (NEP) has been approved by the cabinet today. “Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given approval to the new education policy for the 21st century. It is important as for 34 years there were no changes in the education policy. I am confident that this will be welcomed by entire society and nation as well as the world’s educators,” he said.
Amit Khare, Higher Education Secretary, said it was a historic day and the country has got a New Education Policy (NEP) after 34 years.
“Following the new education policy and reforms, we will achieve 50 per cent Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) by 2035,” he said.
He said the NEP includes graded academic, administrative and financial autonomy for institutions and a single regulator for all higher education, working under a self-disclosure based transparent system for approvals in place of numerous ‘inspections’.
“There are over 45,000 affiliated colleges in our country. Under graded autonomy, academic, administrative and financial autonomy will be given to colleges on the basis of the status of their accreditation. E-courses will be developed in regional languages. Virtual labs will be developed and a National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) is being created,” Khare said.
He said a wide consultation process was adopted in the formulation of NEP 2020. “All 2.5 lakh gram panchayats were approached through online platform. Opinions of governments, departments, academic and common people were taken,” he said. (ANI)
Trump asks federal regulators to examine social media, free speech: White House
Washington DC [USA], July 29 (Sputnik/ANI): The Trump administration has asked US federal regulators to determine whether current internet laws protect social media companies from being sued for altering or otherwise censoring free speech, the White House said in a statement on Wednesday.
“On Monday, the Department of Commerce, as directed by President Donald J Trump’s executive order on preventing online censorship, filed a petition to clarify the scope of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. The petition requests the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to clarify that Section 230 does not permit social media companies that alter or editorialise users’ speech to escape civil liability,” the statement said. The move comes after President Trump repeatedly accused social media and internet firms of unfairly censoring conservative views. He issued his executive order on May 28, after Twitter began placing warning labels on some of his tweets. (Sputnik/ANI)
Vietnam high school graduation exam on schedule despite surge in COVID-19 cases
Hanoi : Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc announced that high school graduation examination would be held in all provinces and cities from August 8-10, VNA News Agency reported.
This decision came amid the continuous surge in the coronavirus cases, and school and college examinations being cancelled or postponed worldwide. According to the VNA News Agency report, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has instructed the Ministry of Education and Training to hold the high school graduation examination in all provinces and cities as previously scheduled, including in Da Nang where new COVID-19 cases have appeared.
During the meeting with permanent government members on COVID-19 prevention and control held on July 27, the PM directed the provincial and city authorities, and health officials to ensure safety for the test candidates.
The ministry reportedly said that it would be guiding agencies in provinces and cities to “classify candidates based on the risk levels of transmission and arrange suitable venues and classrooms.”(ANI)