I had the distinct pleasure of watching 4 wildly rich Tech executives get grilled by a quaint congressional committee yesterday. You know them, they run the ‘FAAG’ companies: Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google (Netflix was missing from the hearings, so I was forced into the acronym). As a tech person, I’ve seen CEOs of their ilk give lots of talks. Usually they are treated like royalty, they speak and people listen. Well not this week. They were cut off many times by people less important than them, saving countless hours of self-congratulatory BS. It was a most spectacular experience.
On to the matter at hand. We saw a rare display of bi-partisanship yesterday, almost everyone was not happy with big tech. Democrats generally focused on monopoly concerns, while Republicans were focused on national security and free speech. It’s pretty clear that the tech CEOs did not pass the sniff test. More to come for sure.
I will be following this closely as my livelihood is directly impacted. Right now it seems the only viable tech startup strategy is to get acquired (or acq-hired) by big tech. And Zuckerberg/Bezos confirmed it. Bezos talked about buying companies for ‘market position’. Zuck went a bit further in an email that surfaced, saying ‘the nice thing about competitive startups is that you can always buy them’. It’s sad that all a startup can aspire to become is a feature in a larger company. You end up catering everything you build towards what a Google or Facebook would want to buy.
It was also a blast to watch the CEOs respond to the question of whether they thought China was stealing tech from the US. Worth noting, Zuck (Facebook) and Bezos (Amazon) are entrepreneur founders, and the Google/Apple execs are CEO managers (who didn’t start the company they now run). The CEO managers were asked first, and Cook (Apple) came up with a limp statement about ‘not to my personal knowledge.’ The Google CEO manager was visibly relieved when he heard that, and immediately followed suit so as to not offend either China or the US. Then Zuck (founder CEO) was asked and said the obvious, that it’s well documented that China is doing this. Everyone was shocked that there wasn’t any spin (gold star to the founder CEO types). Bezos (founder CEO) also agreed that it was well documented this is happening.
A lot more was discussed. I won’t get into how much Google is partnering with the Chinese government on AI. Nor how Google may have improved the targeting software on China’s J-20 fighter jet. Nor will I get into how licensed Doctors are censored from sharing medical opinions that go against the WHO, while the leader of Iran gets a free pass when talking about strikes against the US. Definitely not getting into whether big tech has any 2020 electioneering plans. I’ll just leave you with one thought… the tech CEOs just got a comeuppance that would never have happened under Obama.