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caption: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testifies remotely during a House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington.
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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testifies remotely during a House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington.
Credit: Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP

Bezos' testimony comes with House members' antitrust shocker

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is now awaiting a House committee's prescription for his company.

The House Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee says it is finalizing a report on its investigation into big tech companies and it will propose solutions for problems it finds -- including those with Amazon.

Reporter Carolyn Adolph watched the hearing Wednesday and spoke with KUOW's Angela King.

Carolyn Adolph: Bezos appeared along with the leaders of Google, Facebook, and Apple. His opening statement about his about his humble origins was going to be 25 minutes, but they gave him five. He waited an hour before anyone asked him a question. And most of the hearing appeared to be about Google and Facebook. Bezos did get interrogated about Amazon's role in the demise of diapers.com.

And finally, just as the hearing was coming to an end, the chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, said this:

"This hearing has made one fact clear to me. These companies as they exist today have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up. All need to be properly regulated and held accountable. We need to ensure the antitrust laws first written more than a century ago work in the digital age. When these laws were written and monopolists were men named Rockefeller and Carnegie, their control of the marketplace allowed them to do whatever it took to crush independent businesses and expand their own power. The names have changed, but the story is the same. Today, the men are named Zuckerberg, Cook, Pichai and Bezos. Once again ... their control of the marketplace allows them to do whatever it takes to crush independent business and expand their own power. This must end."

Angela King: So Cicilline there saying some of these companies need to be broken up, all need to be properly regulated -- that's new, isn't it?

Adolph: Oh, it's very new. I was like, What just happened? And it really signals a potentially huge shift in national thinking about antitrust, a turn away from the "markets regulate themselves" view of competition that legislators have held over the last several decades, and a possible return to older ideas about monopoly power that might apply in the age of the platform.

Were there any hints about what they were thinking about Amazon?

Adolph: We didn't get much until a question from Representative Pramila Jayapal of Seattle. She asked Bezos why Amazon thinks that can set the rules of the game for businesses on its marketplace without respecting those same rules itself.

Bezos started to answer: "I appreciate that question. I like it a lot, because I really want a chance to address that. I'm very proud of what we've done for third-party sellers on this platform. We started our third-party platform 20 years ago, and we had zero sellers on it...

Jayapal: "The question I wanted to ask you is that you have access to data that your competitors do not have. So you might allow third-party sellers onto your platform, but if you're continuously monitoring the data to make sure that they're never going to get big enough that they can compete with you. That is actually the concern that the committee has."

How was Bezos's performance overall?

Adolph: So the antitrust committee is saying it thinks that Amazon's business practices are standing in the way of the creation of new great American companies. Knowing how he was new at this Angela, after that exchange with Jayapl, Bezos was corrected by the committee chair, who told him to answer questions directly instead of wasting the committee's time saying how much he likes them. On the issue of substance, which is whether Amazon engages in anticompetitive behavior, Bezos did not guarantee that that had never been true. And that inability to promise that it hadn't happened may come back to haunt him.

Also, the technology was a problem for him. Bezos and all the other West Coast tech giants were not in the room -- they were on WebEx. All the other tech titans managed to look high resolution. Bezos looked kind of blurry and orange. Even Tim Cook of Apple appeared to have a better jawline.

caption: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testifies remotely during a House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Enlarge Icon
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testifies remotely during a House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Credit: AP

He was also the only tech titan to be caught on mute, producing the usual embarrassing scene that happens to everybody caught on mute.