Wednesday’s showdown between US Congress and the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon was a spectacle alright. The link above has a summary of the key moments, but the bit I thought was particularly interesting was the publication of internal emails from 2012, when Facebook started discussing buying Instagram
At one point in the emails, Mark Zuckerberg says…
“One way of looking at this is that what we’re really buying is time. Even if some new competitors springs up, buying Instagram, Path, Foursquare, etc now will give us a year or more to integrate their dynamics before anyone can get close to their scale again. Within that time, if we incorporate the social mechanics they were using, those new products won’t get much traction since we’ll already have their mechanics deployed at scale.”
While it’s fun and nerdy to be able to look into the inner workings of Facebook through emails like these, Congress was far more interested in how it proves Facebook did look at acquisitions as a way of killing competition and staying relevant.
Given this was a session focused on antitrust issues, emails like that are a potential red flag pointing straight towards tighter regulation of Facebook’s activities. Buying competitors isn’t necessarily against antitrust rules, but the emails aren’t a good look when politicians already think Facebook has too much power.
What’s more, while Wednesday’s hearing was quite scattergun, covering everything from competition law to alleged bias against conservatives, it’s clear that lawmakers from both sides of US politics believe it’s time to rein in the behaviour of big tech companies.
But Zuck and his fellow CEOs can probably relax just a little. It’s unlikely anything much will get done ahead of the presidential election in November, so it could be a year or more before we see any solid action to strip them of any of their current powers.