Four major tech CEOs from Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon appeared against the US lawmakers in an antitrust hearing via video conferencing. One of the highlights of the session is a couple of old emails from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg was confronted by Colorado Democrat Representative Joe Neguse over the emails discussing Facebook’s strategy of buying competitive startups.
In the 2012 email marked confidential, the CEO shared the news about acquiring Instagram to which an employee replied, “Well played.” However, adding to the spice, the emails also included a mention of buying Google.
“One reason people underestimate the importance of watching Google is that we can likely always just buy any competitive startups, but it’ll be a while before we can buy Google,” Zuckerberg wrote back then.
Well, the deal could have been possible if Facebook was a big boy when Google tried to sell itself to Yahoo, twice. In that alternate reality, one seat would have been empty at the antitrust hearing.
Anyway, replying to Neguse, Zuckerberg attempted to slide the awkwardness off his table by labeling the email as a joke.
“Congressman, I don’t [remember] specifically. But it sounds like a joke,” Zuckerberg replied when asked whether he could recall writing that email.
The situation of other tech CEOs was quite similar, for instance, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos also complained of weak memory while answering tough questions.
Neguse disagreed with the CEO and said, “I don’t take it as a joke.” The email was made right after Zuckerberg internally announced Instagram’s acquisition, and considering it as an act of humor would be a pill that’s hard to swallow.
“You know as I review the email it was in regards to having just closed the Instagram sale, and the response from this individual, this engineer, to you was quote, ‘well played.’,” Neguse replied.
Facebook called out for copying features
The social media giant also came under fire for cloning the features of competitive apps. While Facebook managed to add Instagram to its shopping list, it couldn’t do so in the case of Snapchat. Back in 2013, Snap Inc. reportedly turned down Facebook’s $3 billion offer.
Over the years, various features from Snapchat have landed on Facebook-owned apps, most notably Instagram.
During the hearing, Zuckerberg was questioned by Washington Democrat Representative Pramila Jayapal whether “Facebook ever threatened to clone the products of another company while also attempting to acquire that company.” The CEO replied that he couldn’t recall.
When asked, Zuckerberg denied using the under-development Facebook Camera app as a threat to Instagram’s founder Kevin Systrom to finalize a potential deal.
Zuckerberg said that he isn’t sure what the congresswoman means by “threaten” and argued that the well-documented Facebook Camera app was intended as a competing product.
However, Jayapal went further to present Systrom’s old chats discussing the issue with an investor where Systrom feared that Zuckerberg would go into “destroy mode” if he didn’t sell Instagram. Zuckerberg replied that he would “respectfully disagree with the characterization,” and re-emphasized that they were going to compete in one way or another. The CEO added that he doesn’t view his conversations with Systrom, “threatening in any way.”
In her concluding lines, Jayapal called Facebook as “a case study in monopoly power.”
The hearing marks the initial steps of whether or not tech giants are abusing their market dominance and breaking antitrust laws to suppress competition. A detailed report of the investigation will be out in the coming weeks, suggesting further steps to follow.