And then there’s the fear. I have reported on small and medium-sized businesses frightened to come forward with stories of how they are abused by counterfeiting or unfair fees by the goliaths. As one told me about his relationship to Amazon, “I’m a hostage.”
Fortunately, the voices of small businesspeople afraid of retaliation came through their elected leaders. “I pay 20% of my income to Uncle Sam in taxes, and 30% to Apple,” one member of Congress noted she heard from businesspeople. Representative Ken Buck, Republican from Colorado, talked about one of the few courageous businesspeople who testified openly months ago, the founder of PopSockets, who had been forced to pay $2m to Amazon just to get Amazon to stop allowing counterfeits of its items sold on the platform. Another Republican representative, Kelly Armstrong, went into the details of Google’s use of tracking to disadvantage its competitors in advertising, joined by Democrat Pramila Jayapal, who asked Google’s CEO why the corporation kept directing ad revenue to its own network of properties instead of sending ad traffic to the best available result.
Over and over, the CEOs had similar answers. I don’t know. I’ll get back to you. I’m not aware of that. Or long rambling attempts to deflect, followed by members of Congress cutting them off to get answers to crisp questions. I learned two things from the surprisingly wan responses of these powerful men. First, they had not had to deal with being asked for real answers about their business behavior for years, if ever, and so they were not ready to respond. And two, antitrust enforcers for the last 15 years, stretching back to the Bush and Obama administrations, bear massive culpability for the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of these corporations. The emails and information that Congress dug up were available to these enforcers, who nonetheless approved merger after merger, and refused to bring complaints against anti-competitive behavior.