Report: Microsoft in talks to buy TikTok’s US business from China’s ByteDance

President Trump has plans to order China’s ByteDance, the owner of hit social video app TikTok, to divest from the company, according to new reporting from Bloomberg. The app is increasingly a target of U.S. security concerns over its Chinese ownership.

After the initial news, reports bubbled up that Microsoft is in talks to buy the Chinese social network, which has a massive footprint in the U.S. and beyond. TikTok itself is not available in China and Chinese users instead use Douyin, a similar ByteDance-owned app specific to the country.

While little is known about what such a sale could mean or if the president would really play any role, the event would send huge waves through the tech world. TikTok is one of the only meaningful outside competitors for U.S.-based social networks like YouTube and Facebook.

It’s also not clear if the sale would somehow spin out the company’s U.S. business or if TikTok’s broad international operations would remain intact.

TikTok knows it’s in trouble in the U.S. At a time when even American tech companies are under fire from regulators, the company desperately needs to alleviate government concerns about its Chinese ownership. TikTok made a big strategic move in that direction this May, hiring Disney executive Kevin Mayer on as CEO of TikTok and COO of ByteDance.

It would certainly be strange timing were an American tech giant to purchase TikTok: On Wednesday, a Congressional committee held a high-profile hearing scrutinizing tech’s biggest mergers and acquisitions. The White House declined to comment on the report when contacted by TechCrunch.

Although its big tech peers Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon were subject to four-plus hours of Congressional scrutiny Wednesday, Microsoft was not asked to attend. Unlike those companies, Microsoft has grappled with antitrust action by the U.S. government before. Microsoft’s primary focus on enterprise rather than consumer business likely also steered regulators away, though the TikTok deal could invite new attention unless it has some kind of special blessing from the federal government.

TikTok has come under increased government scrutiny recently, with the president expressing interest in banning the app outright in the U.S. This month, Joe Biden’s campaign asked its staffers to delete the app from both work and personal devices.

Some U.S. companies have also banned their employees from using the app over concerns about its Chinese ownership.

Secret documents from US antitrust probe reveal big tech’s plot to control or crush the competition

Nearly 500 pages of evidence were made public during the House Judiciary’s marathon hearing this week on potential anti-competitive actions by Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple. We’ve collected them here with added context and an omnibus, searchable version for anyone who’d rather not juggle four dozen documents.

The emails, chat logs, and other communications listed here trickled out online as the hearings went on. Many are internal documents that were never meant to be exposed publicly — for instance, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg telling a colleague that “we can likely always just buy any competitive startups” shortly before acquiring Instagram in 2012.

Congressional investigators wield considerable power in compelling the release of such documents, even against the will of the companies, which would almost certainly never provide such self-incriminating information to journalists. As such these documents contain all manner of useful information, most of it providing insight into the the otherwise opaque thinking of executives as their companies made key decisions about growing their businesses — and hint at strategies traditionally employed by monopolies.

While there isn’t anything that could be called a smoking gun, these are not the only evidence the investigation collected, only those it needed to make public for this hearing. Legislators spoke of other documents and also of interviews and testimony that corroborated their allegations, or contradicted companies’ accounts of events.

While there are too many documents to discuss individually, we’ve noted some interesting exchanges we’ve come across in the files for each company. A combined, searchable mega-file of the internal documents can be found at the bottom of this post. It’s not in any particular order, so it’s best to sift through by looking for key terms, key figures and company names.

Amazon

Image Credits: Screenshot via House Judiciary Committee

The documents contain internal communications about Amazon’s pursuit and eventual purchase of Diapers.com, which also came up in the hearing itself. Aggressive price cutting by the former forced the latter out of business, allowing it to be snapped up and integrated. In one document, we see that Amazon discusses setting up special automatic pricing rules that more aggressively undercut Diapers.com prices compared to other sellers of diapers and toys.

Another document shows that Amazon lost in the neighborhood of $200M in a single quarter during this period, showing that it was willing to take on losses at a scale that the smaller business couldn’t possibly withstand — a classic monopolistic tactic only possible if you command a giant chunk of a market. Rep. Scanlon (D-PA) pushed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on this at about the 2 hour 15 minute mark.

Jeff Bezos, spurred by a TechCrunch post, asks what the plan is for Diapers.com’s next play, Soap.com, and receives a summary of the existing plan, which “undercuts the core diapers business for diapers.com,” and “will slow the adoption of soap.com.” This email shows how Amazon acknowledged that it has positioned itself as “the place to sell globally,” particularly with manufacturers from China who wanted direct access to American consumers. A deck of Diapers.com metrics mentions “predatory pricing” and Amazon as very specific threats to their short- and long-term plans.

Regarding Amazon’s purchase of Ring, which might have emerged as a smart home competitor, this document shows senior management discussing being “willing to pay for market position as it’s hard to catch the leader.” Another email offers more context on Amazon’s thoughts on the acquisition of Ring (at the time referred to as Project Darwin) before it went through. Bezos himself says in this exchange that “we’re buying market position — not technology. And that market position and momentum is very valuable.”

Facebook

Image Credits: Screenshot via House Judiciary Committee

In an email exchange from March 2012, the month before Facebook announced it would buy Instagram, Zuckerberg shares a conversation about China’s “strong culture of cloning things quickly.”

In the original conversation, sent to Facebook Product lead Chris Cox and CTO Mike Schroepfer, a high level Facebook employee describes how they met with the founders of Chinese company RenRen who described how their own company copied apps like Voxer and Pinterest. The author comments that it’s easier for those companies to get products out quickly “since they’re copying other people” and goes on to suggest how a similar strategy could work for Facebook. Forwarding the email to Sheryl Sandberg, Zuckerberg comments “You’ll probably find this interesting and agree.”

Another set of documents captures Mark Zuckerberg’s private courtship of Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom. Tellingly, a side conversation between Systrom and a former Facebook product VP shows that the Instagram creator was concerned about Zuckerberg going into “destroy mode” if Systrom didn’t agree to sell. There’s also more insight about how Facebook saw the Instagram deal and how the company decided to keep it as separate product.

The Facebook documents also include some conversation about the WhatsApp acquisition, which it nicknames “Project Cobalt” including the minutes from a board meeting four days before Facebook went public with its acquisition plans. “Ms. Sandberg emphasized that the high concentration of the mobile operating system market — with two providers serving the vast majority of smartphone users around the world — poses a significant strategic threat to [Facebook’s] business…” the minutes state.

 

Apple

Image Credits: Screenshot via House Judiciary Committee

Apple’s isn’t as well-known for crushing competitors as the other three companies, but it certainly likes to wring revenues out of its software partners while handling maintaining a tight grip on both its hardware and software. Many of the documents focus on Apple’s internal strategies responding to criticism on issues like the right-to-repair controversy and developers unhappy with the obsessive level of control Apple exercises over its products.

The Apple documents also detail how the App Store creator gives preferential treatment to some companies on the commissions it takes. In 2016 emails between Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Apple SVP Eddy Cue, Apple looks to have struck a special deal over the Amazon Prime Video app for iOS and Apple TV.

An email exchange back in 2011 also details how Apple mulled raising commissions to 40% for the first year for subscription apps. “I think we may be leaving money on the table if we just asked for about 30% of the first year of sub,” Cue wrote. This didn’t come to pass, but the correspondence does provide insight into some questions about setting its own rules that the company didn’t really have an answer to in the hearing.

Google

Image Credits: Screenshot via House Judiciary Committee

In a confidential internal presentation from 2006, Google raises alarm about the “orthogonal threat” posed by social networks and other websites with “high entertainment value,” like YouTube.

“… The team developed an opinion that these social networking sites will ultimately represent a threat to our search business as people will spend more time on those sites and ultimately may do most searches from the search boxes available there. They aren’t direct competitors, but they may displace us in end-user time tradeoff.”

The presentation goes on to argue that Google should “own the search box on the entertainment sites” and develop its own social networking solution so those sites don’t win out. That same year, Google announced its landmark acquisition of YouTube.

Other email chains from around the same time capture Google’s internal thinking in the run-up to buying YouTube.

“YouTube’s value to us would be a smart team and a platform we could build from (maybe enough to justify an acquisition on its own), but would we really be able to preserve their community once we start reviewing and pulling copyright or inappropriate content? If anything, that’s likely to cast a poor light on Google,” then-Google Director of Product Hunter Walk wrote, in an interesting moment foreshadowing Google’s current content moderation woes.

After floating a $200 million deal for the company and having YouTube turn up its nose, Google eventually went on to buy the now-ubiquitous video sharing platform for $1.65 billion.

You can read and search through the documents here:

House Antitrust Subcommitte… by TechCrunch on Scribd

Before buying Instagram, Zuckerberg warned employees of ‘battle’ to ‘dislodge’ competitor

In one of the first substantive moments at Wednesday’s major tech hearing, Facebook’s 2012 acquisition of Instagram came under fire, unearthing a few new revelations about the company’s internal thinking at the time.

Alluding to new documents provided to the committee as part of its ongoing year-long antitrust investigation, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said emails between Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives at the time tell “a very disturbing story.”

Nadler went on to declare that Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram violated antitrust laws. “If this was an illegal merger at the time of the transaction, why shouldn’t Instagram now be broken off into a separate company?” Nadler asked.

In a video question and answer session on April 6, 2012 — three days before announcing the Instagram acquisition — Zuckerberg describes the threat posed by the social photo sharing app, mentioning Facebook’s own “not awesome” mobile app that users only “tolerate.”

“They’re growing well. We need to dig ourselves out of a hole. The good news is, we’ve been doing that. The bad news is that they are growing really quickly, they have a lot of momentum and it’s kind of going to be tough to dislodge them. We have a hard battle ahead of ourselves there.”

In emails obtained by the committee, Nadler quotes Zuckerberg saying “one thing about startups is you can often acquire them” — and beginning with Instagram, Facebook has certainly done that.

“I’ve always been clear that we viewed instagram as both a competitor and as a complement to our services,” Zuckerberg said Wednesday, defending the company and downplaying Nadler’s critiques.

“At the time, almost no one thought of them as a general social network,” Zuckerberg claimed.

The reality is that Instagram was already wildly popular, with more than 100,000 daily downloads in Apple’s App Store. “At 27 million registered users on iOS alone, Instagram was increasingly positioning itself as a social network in its own right — not just a photo-sharing app,” TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez wrote at the time.

Given the climate of the deal, the House Judiciary chairman threatened that unwinding the merger would be appropriate, even eight years later.

“… Facebook saw Instagram as a powerful threat that could siphon business away from Facebook so rather than compete with it, Facebook bought it,” Nadler said.

“This is exactly the same kind of anticompetitive action that the antitrust laws were designed to prevent.”

Lawmakers argue that big tech stands to benefit from the pandemic and must be regulated

In his opening statements, the chairman of Wednesday’s historic tech hearing argued that regulating tech’s most dominant players is vital in the midst of the ongoing pandemic that has driven even more of American life online.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, these corporations already stood out as titans in our economy,” House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline said. “In the wake of COVID-19, however, they are likely to emerge stronger and more powerful than ever before.”

The argument that tech stands to benefit from the COVID-19 crisis is a smart one — and a timely attack that’s difficult to dispute. While many major companies in other industries are struggling, grappling with layoffs or filing for bankruptcy, many of tech’s largest companies stand to emerge from the economic storm largely unscathed if not better off.

In his own opening remarks, ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner also argued that because Americans are relying more on online companies than ever before, tech’s power must be examined in light of the pandemic.

“That responsibility comes with increased scrutiny of your dominance in the market,” Sensenbrenner said.

It’s not the first warning about tech companies amassing more power in the throes of the coronavirus crisis. A handful of members of Congress have called attention to mergers planned during the pandemic, citing concerns about adequate scrutiny for deals that could make tech’s already huge companies even larger and more dominant.

In April, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) proposed the Pandemic Anti-Monopoly Act, which would freeze mergers during the crisis, calling out big tech specifically. “The LEAST we should do is halt big mergers during COVID to slow the consolidation of sectors,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Cicilline also previously called for a freeze on “mega-mergers” and pushed for such a ban to be included in the economic stimulus package passed by Congress.

“As hard as it is to believe, it is possible that our economy will emerge from this crisis even more concentrated and consolidated than before,” Cicilline said. “As American families shift more of their work, shopping and communication online, these giants stand to profit.”

How to watch big tech’s CEOs tangle with Congress on antitrust issues and more

Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg will defend their companies before the House Antitrust Subcommittee Wednesday in a hearing that will make tech industry history, no matter what happens.

Given that the tech giants are accustomed to answering to no one in particular, collecting four of them on a substantive topic is notable in its own right. Remarkably, Wednesday will mark the first time Amazon’s CEO has faced lawmakers in a public hearing — and they’re bound to have plenty of questions for the take-no-prisoners online retail behemoth.

For Apple and Cook, who prefer to stay above the public-facing political fray, it’s the first time before Congress in years. Facebook and Google have both been called to Congress more recently, but lawmakers have still barely scratched the surface of two companies that have completely reshaped modern life.

If you’re just catching up, read our explainer about why this whole thing is happening at all and what to expect. You can also read the opening statements from Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google and skip them tomorrow so you can spend more time with your Nespresso or whatever it is we’re all doing to get by these days. The statements provide a good idea of how the companies will play defense against regulators keen to install some safety features before we barrel into a fresh decade of unchecked growth.

There are a lot of unknowns heading into the hearing. Will lawmakers extract any useful revelations or will it be five hours of “let us get back to you on that?” Could tech executives manage to be even more evasive now that they’re appearing remotely via video chat? Will some subcommittee members lead the hearing so far into off-topic territory that we learn nothing about the business practices that scaled an industry of market-owning giants? And most importantly: On a scale of one to supervillain, what kind of vibes will Bezos give off?

We hope to know the answers to all of these questions and more — possibly even a question from a lawmaker or two — as we cover Wednesday’s events closely. If you’re interested in watching it go down yourself, you can tune into the livestream right here (well, up there) on Wednesday July 29 at 12PM ET.

Read how Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google plan to defend themselves to Congress

With their big day before lawmakers just around the corner, previews of Google (well, Alphabet), Facebook, Amazon and Apple’s opening statements are now available on the House Judiciary Committee’s site. On Wednesday, the CEOs of each company will appear in an unusually executive-packed Congressional hearing focused on antitrust concerns over the business practices.

While the opening statements are just a glimpse of the hearing’s potential topics, they do provide a useful outline for the strategy each company will use to fend off accusations that their businesses have grown on such an enormous scale due to anticompetitive behavior. In recent hearings, tech executives have mostly managed to stick to safe, well-rehearsed lines, so if any moments deviate from these scripts those will likely be the most interesting or useful bits of testimony.

In their opening statements, the chief executives of each company make some similar arguments–for example, all four claim that their companies still face intense competition, especially in global markets. Amazon and Apple also say that their ecosystems have created millions of job for third-party businesses that use their platforms.

But the CEOs also take slightly different approaches to how they present their opening statements. For example, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive officer, and Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Alphabet and Google, go into their personal backgrounds in detail. Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg focus on the fact that their companies are based in the United States: Cook calls Apple an “uniquely American company,” and Zuckerberg says that Facebook is a “proudly American company.”

Though Amazon is the largest online retailer in America, Bezos will argue in his opening statement that it is a small player in the global retail market, with Amazon accounting for “less than 1% of the $25 trillion global retail market and less than 4% of retail in the U.S.” Among domestic competitors, Bezos focuses on Walmart, stating that it is “a company more than twice Amazon’s size,” and also names newer competitors like Shopify and Instacart.

Bezos’ opening statement also dwells on the small- and medium-sized retailers that sell products on Amazon’s platform, estimating that third-party businesses on Amazon have created over 2.2 million new jobs around the world.

Cook says that the “smartphone market is fiercely competitive,” with rivals like Samsung, LG, Huawei and Google, and that all of Apple’s product categories, including the iPhone, do not have a dominant market share in any of the markets where it does business.

Like Bezos, Cook’s statement also argues that Apple’s ecosystem has helped create jobs. He says that the App Store now hosting more than 1.7 million apps, only 60 of which were developed by Apple, and “more than 1.9 million American jobs in all 50 states are attributable to Apple.”

Even though Google Search is the dominant search engine in the U.S., Pichai will claim that is facing down a large roster of rivals, including services that aren’t specifically search engines. For example, he cites Amazon’s Alexa, Twitter, WhatsApp, SnapChat, and Pinterest as alternative sources of information and says most people turn to e-commerce sites like Amazon, eBay and Walmart for information about products.

Google’s ad business is also expected to be in the spotlight during the hearings. Pichai’s opening statement argues that advertisers have “an enormous amount of choice” for platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Comcast and others, that means advertising costs have lowered by 40% over the last decade.

Zuckerberg also argues that Facebook still faces intense competition, especially in other countries. Though Zuckerberg doesn’t reference any specific company or app, he highlights competition from the Chinese tech industry, telling lawmakers that “China is building its own version of the internet focused on on very different ideas, and they are exporiting their vision to other countries.”

While Facebook has been criticized for acquiring companies like Instagram and WhatsApp, Zuckerberg argues that those services improved under his company’s ownership.

The big tech hearing with the House Judiciary’s Antitrust Subcommittee will begin Wednesday at 12PM ET and we’ll be following along over the course of the day so check back for coverage of the most noteworthy moments. For reference, the full opening statements can be found below.

– Apple
– Amazon
– Google
– Facebook

What to expect from tech’s historic antitrust showdown with Congress

Chief executives from four of the world’s most powerful companies will defend the vast empires they’ve built in testimony before Congress on Wednesday.

In a hearing held by the House’s Antitrust Subcommittee, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg will all face questions about how their business practices propelled them into the market-dominant giants they are today. Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook make up four of top six most valuable public companies in existence and are widely regarded as reshaping the consumer world, both within the tech industry and beyond.

The event will begin at 12 PM ET and may run all day, given the breadth of relevant topics and the four very different, deeply influential tech companies that we’ll be hearing from. Here’s what to expect from the big day.

What’s the big deal?

There have been quite a few Congressional hearings examining tech companies in recent years, but usually those companies send their lead counsel — not their CEOs.

When a tech CEO appears before Congress it’s a sign that whatever they’re testifying about poses a real enough threat to their business that it’s better to place nice with lawmakers rather than blowing them off.

While Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg have all testified before Congress before — Pichai in 2018, Zuckerberg in 2018 and 2019 and Tim Cook way back in 2013 — this will be the first time Jeff Bezos has agreed to come before Congress. Given the amount of concerns lawmakers have expressed over Amazon in recent years, that’s a big deal.

Who’s running the show?

The hearing is being coordinated by the House Judiciary’s Antitrust Subcommittee, a subsection of the broader House committee that focuses on antitrust issues, among other topics. Because it’s in the House, the subcommittee is controlled by Democrats and is helmed by David Cicilline, a prominent and serious critic of big tech companies. It’s worth noting that Val Demings, who is currently being considered as Joe Biden’s running mate, is among the Democratic members.

On the Republican side, Jim Sensenbrenner is the ranking member. The outspoken Trump supporter Matt Gaetz also serves on the subcommittee and we can expect to hear a lot from him for reasons we’ll get into it a little bit.

What is this all about?

The title of the hearing is “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 6: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google .” Five previous hearings were also part of the subcommittee’s year-long antitrust investigation into digital markets, touching on issues like data privacy, innovation, the free press and competition. Expect all of those angles to come up at Wednesday’s hearing.

What the hearing is about and what will end up being the focus could be two different things, depending on how well Cicilline is able to rein things in as the subcommittee’s chair. As we mentioned previously, Florida Republican Matt Gaetz has signaled his interest in steering the four tech CEOs to the less substantive but more politically expedient topic of anti-conservative bias in tech.

Earlier this week, Gaetz made a criminal referral to the Justice Department that accused Mark Zuckerberg of lying in his 2018 testimony to Congress when he said Facebook does not have a bias against conservatives. The issue of anti-conservative bias is a favorite among Trump-friendly Republicans, and Gaetz is likely to veer away from very real concerns over anti-competitive behavior among tech companies toward unproven bias claims.

Will they really say anything useful?

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline stressed the importance that the tech CEOs are “forthcoming” on Wednesday, emphasizing the “central role these corporations play in the lives of the American people.” While it would serve these companies to appear transparent and not evasive, the testimony is likely to be a careful combination of the two.

In past appearances, tech CEOs have been criticized for being tight-lipped, offering only robotic answers and promising to “get back” to members of Congress every other question. We can expect more of this Wednesday, though the tone and efficacy of the hearing will really depending on who’s asking the questions and how well lawmakers coordinate their lines of inquiry.

Where is Twitter? Microsoft?

Last week, House Republicans led by Jim Jordan called on Twitter to appear at tech’s big antitrust hearing, claiming that the day would be “incomplete” without an appearance from Jack Dorsey. Dorsey has made appearances before Congress before, but the new request was rightfully ignored.

While often elevated to the status of peer companies like Facebook and YouTube, Twitter is a relatively small company with an outsized impact on society — and one not suspected of market-shaping practices that could box competitors out. To put it in perspective: Twitter’s market capitalization is $29 billion; Facebook’s is $667 billion.

Compared to Twitter, Microsoft is massive and a more natural fit for the hearing but the company has a much more storied history of government scrutiny. Cicilline himself said that regulatory enforcement against Microsoft two decades ago “made space for an enormous amount of additional innovation and competition.”

Depending on who you ask, U.S. regulatory efforts against Microsoft either presaged an era of regulatory overreach or failed to be little more than a slap on the wrist. Sound familiar?

How do I watch it?

We’ll be watching the hearing and reporting on it, so check back for our coverage and analysis throughout the day. If you’re keen to sit through it yourself, we’ve embedded a YouTube link below that should work when the livestream begins on Wednesday, July 29 at 12 PM ET.

Twitter restricts Donald Trump Jr.’s account for sharing COVID-19 misinformation

Twitter has temporarily frozen Donald Trump Jr.’s account after the president’s son shared a video making false and potentially life-threatening claims about the coronavirus pandemic.

The younger Trump’s account was restricted Tuesday morning after he shared a link to the viral video, tweeting “This is a much [sic] watch!!! So different from the narrative that everyone is running with.”

“The Tweet referenced was in violation of our COVID-19 misinformation policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch. The company said that the tweet violated its rules against COVID-19 misinformation and must be deleted. Trump’s account was not suspended, but its functionality will be restricted for 12 hours.

The video was widely publicized by Breitbart News and features a number of people in lab coats who refer to themselves as “America’s Frontline Doctors.” In the video, the individuals push various false and dangerous claims, including the claim that masks don’t prevent the spread of the virus and yet another defense of the drug hydroxychloroquine, which hasn’t proven effective in treating the virus.

President Trump shared the video multiple times on Monday night in tweets that now appear as “no longer available” on his timeline. The now-removed tweets are wedged in between a number of remaining retweets that defend hydroxychloroquine as a “gold standard” and a “game changer” and attack White House pandemic advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci’s credibility.

Facebook and YouTube are also working to scrub instances of the video. On Facebook, the viral video collected more than 14 million views and became one of the platform’s most popular posts before being targeted for removal.

 

California is investigating concerns about COVID-19 safety at Amazon centers

According to a new court filing, multiple California state offices are actively investigating Amazon over worker safety concerns as the coronavirus continues to rage throughout the U.S.

In the filing, reported by Reuters, a San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman writes that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health and San Francisco’s Department of Public Health have all opened investigations into the online retail giant’s workplace practices in light of the pandemic. The Attorney General’s office declined to comment when reached by TechCrunch.

While Amazon faced frequent criticism for worker well being before the pandemic, the ongoing crisis has made those concerns even more stark. With white-collar workers sent home, the virus has spread quickly through clusters of employees at factory floors and warehouses nationwide where social distancing isn’t enforced. Amazon’s own shipping centers have reported outbreaks, including one in the Pocono Mountains and another in Oregon and by May eight Amazon warehouse workers had died from the virus.

The disclosure of the three California state investigations came out of court case accusing Amazon of failing to adequately protect workers in a San Francisco Amazon Fresh Fulfillment Center. In the lawsuit, filed in March, Amazon Fresh worker Chiyomi Brent accuses the company of taking risks, including sharing the suits they wear into freezers without cleaning them after each use. Brent also filed a complaint with California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which is now looking into Amazon’s distribution center practices.

Tech’s top CEOs will face Congress in antitrust hearing now set for Wednesday

A rare public showdown between Congress and the CEOs of tech’s biggest companies is still on track after being postponed last week. The House Judiciary Committee hearing, originally set for Monday, will now take place Wednesday, July 29 at 12 PM Eastern Time. The date was changed in light of the death of the civil rights leader and Georgia Representative John Lewis, who will be honored in a ceremony Monday in the Capitol building.

The hearing, titled “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 6: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google,” will see an unusually comprehensive cast of tech’s most powerful leaders face off with lawmakers.

Any hearing that manages to drag a single tech CEO to Washington D.C. — even virtually, in this case — is notable and Wednesday’s hearing will hear testimony from four of them. In the hearing, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook will all face questions about their company practices and concerns that anticompetitive behavior is impacting some of tech’s key markets for the worse.

The hearing is the latest chapter in the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee’s ongoing antitrust investigation targeting many of tech’s largest, most powerful companies that was first announced last year.

“Since last June, the Subcommittee has been investigating the dominance of a small number of digital platforms and the adequacy of existing antitrust laws and enforcement,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline said in a joint statement.

“Given the central role these corporations play in the lives of the American people, it is critical that their CEOs are forthcoming. As we have said from the start, their testimony is essential for us to complete this investigation.”

We’ll be following the hearing closely on Wednesday. If you stumble onto this page the day of, the link below should provide a reliable stream.