Aggrieved Apple

Today was the day of the big anti-trust hearing on capital hear with four big tech companies, Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon. Microsoft is noticeably absent from that list. I listed to part of the hearing live but got bored when they paused to “help restore someone’s feed”.

My take on the parts I saw and a summary from The NY Times is that it’s exactly what you expect a 5 hour hearing where lawmakers can only ask questions for 5 minutes at a time. Lots of grandstanding by old white guys who really dont have a clue what they are talking about.

Overall I’m torn about all this. On one hand I do believe that there are issues with each of these companies but its also so clear that the case around each of them is so completely different that its ridiculous to think anything coherent could come out of a hearing like this.

Ben had an amazing daily update yesterday with his thoughts on what congress needs to do here. He’s excited that Congress has opened up the door to this and he agrees that something needs to be done here. I agree that something needs to be done and congress needs to make new laws to do it. But I dont really know where to begin with how to shape those laws.

I do think his questions for each of the CEOs was a great place to start however. Even though this is from a paid post he gave permission to share these questions with our representative so I feel justified in sharing them here as well. I edited the list a bit to focus on the ones I think would be the most interesting to ask.

Tim Cook, Apple

  • Do you believe that Apple has been adequately compensated for its role in making smartphones the most indispensable devices in people’s lives? Does Apple deserve more revenue from App developers, including those offering free apps?
  • Last week Apple released a study defending the App Store’s 30% commission, comparing it to both other App Stores and also bricks-and-mortar retail. Do you believe that direct-to-consumer sales over the Internet are a viable channel as well, and if so, why were they largely ignored in your study?
  • Does Apple Music or Apple Books pay a 30% charge on every purchase? If so, how is that charge accounted for? If not, why would Spotify and Kindle have to pay Apple 30% if they offered in-app purchase? And why can’t Spotify and Kindle link to their web pages for purchases?

Jeff Bezos, Amazon

  • Does Amazon use individual seller data to inform what products it sells under private labels? If not how does Amazon decide what products to produce itself?

Sundar Pichai, Google

  • Larry Page once said that Google’s goal was to get users off the site as soon as possible and to their destination; now nearly half of a typical results page is devoted to Google-centric information (answer boxes, ads, etc.). Has Google’s goal changed? If so, why? Does Google take up more space in the results for topics that generate more revenue (like travel)?
  • Did Google see any decrease in usage after adding a third ad to mobile search results? What about after adding a fourth ad?
  • Local search on Google Maps includes a large number of reviews and place information, but those reviews and place information are not indexed by Google Search. Why? Does Google believe that their reviews and place information is competitive with 3rd-party providers like Trip Advisor?
  • Why has Google shifted away from paid results for Shopping?
  • How much does Google pay Apple to be the default search engine on iOS? Why do Android manufacturers have to make Google the default search engine in order to gain access to the Play Store?
  • Why did Google end last-look bidding on its ad exchanges? What percentage of bids does Google win on its own ad exchanges?

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook