Steps from the House’s antitrust report are too little, too late when it comes to big tech

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee has finally released its omnibus report  on its investigation into the monopoly powers held by Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, and Facebook and its findings will do nothing to stem the power of big tech.

For startups, the most relevant points are the potential solutions the committee proposes for addressing big tech and they primarily boil down to giving small companies the benefit of the doubt when they claim that bigger rivals are exercising monopolistic advantages — and prevent the kinds of acquisitions in the future that allowed these companies to reach the unassailable positions they currently occupy in their chosen markets.

The Committee asserts that in their core areas of business: search, ecommerce, social networking and mobile development platforms and applications, each of the companies is, indeed, a monopoly. And the committee argues that in the future judicial and legislative bodies should define down their definition of market dominance to give smaller companies more standing in cases where they challenge the actions of these large competitors.

Here’s the relevant passage from the report:

“To address this concern, Subcommittee staff recommends that Congress consider extending the Sherman Act to prohibit abuses of dominance.Furthermore, the Subcommittee should examine the creation of a statutory presumption that a market share of 30% or more constitutes a rebuttable presumption of dominance by a seller, and a market share of 25% or more constitute a rebuttable presumption of dominance by a buyer.”

The other interesting section — and the one that will likely prove most troubling for investors and startup founders who are looking to exit their businesses relates to how regulators should handle future mergers and acquisitions from big technology companies.

Here, the Judiciary Committee suggests that the default view should be to rule against transactions involving startups by established tech companies… which… yikes.

The report says:

“Since startups can be an important source of potential and nascent competition, the antitrust laws should also look unfavorably upon incumbents purchasing innovative startups. One way that Congress could do so is by codifying a presumption against acquisitions of startups by dominant firms, particularly those that serve as direct competitors, as well as those operating in adjacent or related markets.”

For the most part, it seems that the word from regulators is that they should have done more, sooner, to limit the power of big tech, but won’t go so far as to take steps that would actually limit the power of big tech.

Instead, they’re punishing entrepreneurs and pulling up the ladder behind the companies that have already achieved market dominance. And are making it tougher for any company to actually mount a realistic challenge through an M&A strategy of its own.

These regulations seem like they’ll make it harder for Snap to make strategic deals that could put it in more direct competition with Facebook (just a random example).

So, the result of all of the hours of testimony, millions of documents, and every other bit of labor that went into the investigation the results are simply — an exhortation for regulators to #bebetter.

Regulators do, indeed, need to be better. Congress should have done a better job when it would have mattered at all.

The next big tech hearing is scheduled for October 28

A day after the Senate Commerce Committee moved forward with plans to subpoena the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google, it looks like some of the most powerful leaders in tech will testify willingly.

Twitter announced late Friday that Jack Dorsey would appear virtually before the committee on October 28, just days before the U.S. election. While Twitter is the only company that’s openly agreed to the hearing so far, Politico reports that Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg also plan to appear.

Members of both parties on the committee planned to use the hearings to examine Section 230, the key legal shield that protects online platforms from liability from the content their users create.

As we’ve discussed previously, the political parties are approaching Section 230 from very different perspectives. Democrats see threatening changes to Section 230 as a way to force platforms to take more seriously toxic content like misinformation and harassment.

Many Republicans believe tech companies should be stripped of Section 230 protections because platforms have an anti-conservative bias — a claim that the facts don’t bear out.

Twitter had some choice words about that perspective, calling claims of political bias an “unsubstantiated allegation that we have refuted on many occasions to Congress,” and noting that those accusations have been “widely disproven” by researchers.

“We do not enforce our policies on the basis of political ideology,” the company added.

It sounds like the company and members of the Senate have very different agendas. Twitter indicated that it plans to use the hearing’s timing to steer the conversation toward the election. Politico also reports that the scope of the hearing will be broadened to include “data privacy and media consolidation” — not just Section 230.

A spokesperson tweeting on the company’s public policy account insisted that the hearing “must be constructive,” addressing how tech companies can protect the integrity of the vote.

“At this critical time, we’re committed to keeping our focus squarely on what matters the most to our company: joint efforts to protect our shared democratic conversation from harm — from both foreign and domestic threats,” a Twitter spokesperson wrote.

Regardless of the approach, dismantling Section 230 could prove potentially catastrophic for the way the internet as we know it works, so the stakes are high, both for tech companies and for regular internet users.

Senate’s encryption backdoor bill is ‘dangerous for Americans,’ says Rep. Lofgren

A Senate bill that would compel tech companies to build backdoors to allow law enforcement access to encrypted devices and data would be “very dangerous” for Americans, said a leading House Democrat.

Law enforcement frequently spars with tech companies over their use of strong encryption, which protects user data from hackers and theft, but the government says makes it harder to catch criminals accused of serious crime. Tech companies like Apple and Google have in recent years doubled down on their security efforts by securing data with encryption that even they cannot unlock.

Senate Republicans in June introduced their latest “lawful access” bill, renewing previous efforts to force tech companies to allow law enforcement access to a user’s data when presented with a court order.

“It’s dangerous for Americans, because it will be hacked, it will be utilized, and there’s no way to make it secure,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, whose congressional seat covers much of Silicon Valley, told TechCrunch at Disrupt 2020. “If we eliminate encryption, we’re just opening ourselves up to massive hacking and disruption,” she said.

Lofgren’s comments echo those of critics and security experts, who have long criticized efforts to undermine encryption, arguing that there is no way to build a backdoor for law enforcement that could not also be exploited by hackers.

Several previous efforts by lawmakers to weaken and undermine encryption have failed. Currently, law enforcement has to use existing tools and techniques to find weaknesses in phones and computers. The FBI claimed for years that it had thousands of devices that it couldn’t get into, but admitted in 2018 that it repeatedly overstated the number of encrypted devices it had and the number of investigations that were negatively impacted as a result.

Lofgren has served in Congress since 1995 during the first so-called “Crypto Wars,” during which the security community fought the federal government to limit access to strong encryption. In 2016, Lofgren was part of an encryption working group on the House Judiciary Committee. The group’s final report, bipartisan but not binding, found that any measures to undermine encryption “works against the national interest.”

Still, it’s a talking point that the government continues to push, even as recently as this year when U.S. Attorney General William Barr said that Americans should accept the security risks that encryption backdoors pose.

“You cannot eliminate encryption safely,” Lofgren told TechCrunch. “And if you do, you will create chaos in the country and for Americans, not to mention others around the world,” she said. “It’s just an unsafe thing to do, and we can’t permit it.”

Twitter flags Republican leader’s video as ‘manipulated’ for altering disabled activist’s words

Twitter flagged an inflammatory video by House Republican Whip Steve Scalise on Sunday for altering footage of a conversation between progressive activist Ady Barkan and Joe Biden. The video is now labeled as “manipulated media” in a tweet from Scalise, though remains online.

The inflammatory video pulls in out-of-context quotes from a number of Democrats and activists, but appears to have crossed a line by altering Barkan’s words from a portion of the conversation about policing reform. Barkan, who has ALS, speaks with an assistive eye-tracking device.

“These are not my words. I have lost my ability to speak, but not my agency or my thoughts,” Barkan tweeted in response, adding “…You owe the entire disability community an apology.”

In the video excerpt, taken from a longer conversation about policing and social services, Barkan appears to say “Do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding for police?” In reality, Barkan interrupted Biden during the conversation to ask “Do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding?”

In the video, Barkan’s altered sentence is followed by a dramatic black background stamped with the words “No police. Mob rule. Total chaos. Coming to a town near you?” Those ominous warnings are followed by a logo for Scalise’s reelection campaign.

The addition of the two words, falsely rendered in Barkan’s voice, don’t significantly change the meaning of his question, but the edit still crossed a line. A Twitter spokesperson confirmed that the tweet violated the company’s policy for “synthetic and manipulated media,” though did not specify which part of the video broke the rules.

The synthetic and manipulated media policy states that Twitter “may label Tweets containing synthetic and manipulated media to help people understand their authenticity and to provide additional context.” In the policy, Twitter explains specifically that “new video frames, overdubbed audio” and other edits count as deceptive and significant manipulation.

Facebook trails expanding portability tools ahead of FTC hearing

Facebook is considering expanding the types of data its users are able to port directly to alternative platforms.

In comments on portability sent to US regulators ahead of an FTC hearing on the topic next month, Facebook says it intends to expand the scope of its data portability offerings “in the coming months”.

It also offers some “possible examples” of how it could build on the photo portability tool it began rolling out last year — suggesting it could in future allow users to transfer media they’ve produced or shared on Facebook to a rival platform or take a copy of their “most meaningful posts” elsewhere.

Allowing Facebook-based events to be shared to third party cloud-based calendar services is another example cited in Facebook’s paper.

It suggests expanding portability in such ways could help content creators build their brands on other platforms or help event organizers by enabling them to track Facebook events using calendar based tools.

However there are no firm commitments from Facebook to any specific portability product launches or expansions of what it offers currently.

For now the tech giant only lets Facebook users directly send copies of their photos to Google’s eponymous photo storage service — a transfer tool it switched on for all users this June.

“We remain committed to ensuring the current product remains stable and performant for people and we are also exploring how we might extend this tool, mindful of the need to preserve the privacy of our users and the integrity of our services,” Facebook writes of its photo transfer tool.

On whether it will expand support for porting photos to other rival services (i.e. not just Google Photos) Facebook has this non-committal line to offer regulators: “Supporting these additional use cases will mean finding more destinations to which people can transfer their data. In the short term, we’ll pursue these destination partnerships through bilateral agreements informed by user interest and expressions of interest from potential partners.”

Beyond allowing photo porting to Google Photos, Facebook users have long been able to download a copy of some of the information it holds on them.

But the kind of portability regulators are increasingly interested in is about going much further than that — meaning offering mechanisms that enable easy and secure data transfers to other services in a way that could encourage and support fast-moving competition to attention-monopolizing tech giants.

The Federal Trade Commission is due to host a public workshop on September 22, 2020, which it says will  “examine the potential benefits and challenges to consumers and competition raised by data portability”.

The regulator notes that the topic has gained interest following the implementation of major privacy laws that include data portability requirements — such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

It asked for comment submissions by August 21, which is what Facebook’s paper is responding to.

In comments to the Reuters news agency, Facebook’s privacy and public policy manager, Bijan Madhani, said the company wants to see “dedicated portability legislation” coming out of any post-workshop recommendations.

It reports that Facebook supports a portability bill that’s doing the rounds in Congress — called the Access Act, which is sponsored by Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal and Mark Warner, and Republican senator Josh Hawley — which would require large tech platforms to let their users easily move their data to other services.

Albeit Madhani dubs it a good first step, adding that the company will continue to engage with the lawmakers on shaping its contents.

“Although some laws already guarantee the right to portability, our experience suggests that companies and people would benefit from additional guidance about what it means to put those rules into practice,” Facebook also writes in its comments to the FTC .

Ahead of dipping its toe into portability via the photo transfer tool, Facebook released a white paper on portability last year, seeking to shape the debate and influence regulatory thinking around any tighter or more narrowly defined portability requirements.

In recent months Mark Zuckerberg has also put in facetime to lobby EU lawmakers on the topic, as they work on updating regulations around digital services.

The Facebook founder pushed the European Commission to narrow the types of data that should fall under portability rules. In the public discussion with commissioner Thierry Breton, in May, he raised the example of the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data misuse scandal, claiming the episode illustrated the risks of too much platform “openness” — and arguing that there are “direct trade-offs about openness and privacy”.

Zuckerberg went on to press for regulation that helps industry “balance these two important values around openness and privacy”. So it’s clear the company is hoping to shape the conversation about what portability should mean in practice.

Or, to put it another way, Facebook wants to be able to define which data can flow to rivals and which can’t.

“Our position is that portability obligations should not mandate the inclusion of observed and inferred data types,” Facebook writes in further comments to the FTC — lobbying to put broad limits on how much insight rivals would be able to gain into Facebook users who wish to take their data elsewhere.

Both its white paper and comments to the FTC plough this preferred furrow of making portability into a ‘hard problem’ for regulators, by digging up downsides and fleshing out conundrums — such as how to tackle social graph data.

On portability requests that wrap up data on what Facebook refers to as “non-requesting users”, its comments to the FTC work to sew doubt about the use of consent mechanisms to allow people to grant each other permission to have their data exported from a particular service — with the company questioning whether services “could offer meaningful choice and control to non-requesting users”.

“Would requiring consent inappropriately restrict portability? If not, how could consent be obtained? Should, for example, non-requesting users have the ability to choose whether their data is exported each time one of their friends wants to share it with an app? Could an approach offering this level of granularity or frequency of notice could lead to notice fatigue?” Facebook writes, skipping lightly over the irony given the levels of fatigue its own apps’ default notifications can generate for users.

Facebook also appears to be advocating for an independent body or regulator to focus on policy questions and liability issues tied to portability, writing in a blog post announcing its FTC submission: “In our comments, we encourage the FTC to examine portability in practice. We also ask it to recommend dedicated federal portability legislation and provide advice to industry on the policy and regulatory tensions we highlight, so that companies implementing data portability have the clear rules and certainty necessary to build privacy-protective products that enhance people’s choice and control online.”

In its FTC submission the company goes on to suggest that “an independent mechanism or body” could “collaboratively set privacy and security standards to ensure data portability partnerships or participation in a portability ecosystem that are transparent and consistent with the broader goals of data portability”.

Facebook then further floats the idea of an accreditation model under which recipients of user data “could demonstrate, through certification to an independent body, that they meet the data protection and processing standards found in a particular regulation, such as the [EU’s] GDPR or associated code of conduct”.

“Accredited entities could then be identified with a seal and would be eligible to receive data from transferring service providers. The independent body (potentially in consultation with relevant regulators) could work to assess compliance of certifying entities, revoking accreditation where appropriate,” it further suggests.

However its paper also notes the risk that requiring accreditation might present a barrier to entry for the small businesses and startups that might otherwise be best positioned to benefit from portability.

In antitrust hearing, Zuckerberg admits Facebook has copied its competition

At the House Antitrust Subcommittee hearings this afternoon, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was directly questioned about his company’s strategy of copying competitors’ app and features, and even threatening to do so as a negotiation tactic amid M&A discussions. In his response, Zuckerberg was forced to admit the obvious: that Facebook, he said, has “certainly adapted features that others have led in.”

However, he denied any characterization claiming Facebook used such tactics in an anti-competitive way — for example, to pressure a company to sell to Facebook instead of trying to compete with it.

In one particular line of questioning between Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Facebook’s CEO, she asked specifically about the company’s billion-dollar acquisition of Instagram in 2012. The M&A deal had been already been brought up repeatedly throughout the hearing as an example of Facebook buying its way into expanded market power.

Jayapal led into the questions around Instagram by first painting a picture of a company where execs agreed that copying from other apps was a viable business strategy.

She specifically referenced emails from 2012 between Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg where the CEO had written that by moving faster, Facebook could “prevent our competitors from getting footholds.” Sandberg had responded that “it is hard not to agree it that is better to do more and move faster, especially if that means you don’t have competitors build products that takes some of our users.” A PM had also chimed in that they would love to see Facebook being “even more aggressive and nimble” in copying competitors, Jayapal noted.

Mark Zuckerberg

Image Credits: TechCrunch/screenshot

The emails had hinted at the birth of Facebook’s strategy around copying its competition, as they detailed meetings between a high-level Facebook employee and the Renren founders as well as Robin Li from China’s Baidu.

The employee had learned of the overall culture of cloning products quickly in the Chinese app market.  Renren had built its own version of Pinterest and Tumblr, the emails said, as well as games, a music product and more. And Tencent QQ had then just released a messaging app similar to the walkie-talkie app Voxer in the U.S. It was pointed out that maybe it was easier to move quickly because these companies were “just copying other people,” the email suggested.

Zuckerberg had forwarded the email to Sandberg, noting “you’ll probably find this interesting and agree.” And she did.

Under questioning, Zuckerberg declined to say how many companies Facebook had copied since the 2012 email exchange, bristling that he didn’t agree with the premise of the question.

“Our job is to make sure that we build the best services for people to connect with all the people they care about. And a lot of that is done by innovating and by building new things…,” he began, before being cut off.

Jayapal then asked if Facebook had ever threatened to clone a product from another company while attempting to acquire it.

“Not that I recall,” Zuckerberg said.

However, it seems Facebook had threatened to use its “Facebook Camera” app against Instagram ahead of the latter’s acquisition, Jayapal noted. In a chat with Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom, Zuckerberg said Facebook was developing its own photo strategy, and how we engage now will also determine how much we’re partners versus competitors down the line, she explained. In an email chain, Zuckerberg had told Systrom that “at some point, you’ll need to figure out how you actually want to work with us.”

The Instagram founder had also confided in an investor that he felt Zuckerberg’s comments were a threat, Jayapal said, and was concerned that Facebook would go into “destroy mode” if he didn’t sell Instagram.

Zuckerberg didn’t deny the conversation, but disagreed again with the characterization, saying it was clear that this was a space the two companies would compete in.

Jayapal asked also if a similar tactic was used against Snapchat in its attempts to acquire the company.

“I don’t remember those specific conversations,” Zuckerberg responded. “But that was also an area where was very clear that we were going to be building something,” he said.

Jayapal concluded her time by stating that she did believe Facebook was a monopoly because of this and other behavior.

“I think the question again here is when the dominant platform threatens as potential rivals, that should not be a normal business practice. Facebook is a case study, in my opinion, in monopoly power because your company harvests and monetizes our data, and then your company uses that data to spy on competitors, and to copy acquire and kill rivals,” she said.

Google’s Sundar Pichai grilled over “destroying anonymity on the Internet”

Google’s Sundar Pichai faced an awkward line of enquiry during today’s House Antitrust Subcommittee hearing related to its 2007 acquisition of adtech platform DoubleClick, and how it went on to renege on an original promise to lawmakers and regulators that it would not (nor could not) merge DoubleClick data with Google account data — automagically doing just that almost a decade later.

By linking Internet users’ browsing data, as harvested via the DoubleClick cookie, to Google accounts it was able to join the dots of user identities, (Gmail) email data, search history, location data and so on (Google already having collapsed the privacy policies of separate products, to join up all that activity) with its users’ wider Internet browsing activity — vastly expanding its ability to profile and target people with behavioral ads.

Agency for Google users to prevent this massive privacy intrusion, there was none.

Rep. Val Demings contended that by combining DoubleClick cookie data and Google account data Google had essentially destroyed user privacy on the Internet. And — importantly, given the domestic antitrust scrutiny the company now faces — that that had only been possible because of the market power Google had amassed.

“When Google proposed the merger alarm bells were raised about the access to data Google would have — specifically the ability to connect a user’s personal identity with their browsing activity,” said Demings, before zooming in to hammer Pichai on another tech giant broken data privacy promise.

“Google… committed to Congress and to the antitrust enforcers that the deal would not reduce user privacy. Google chief’s legal advisor testified before the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee that Google wouldn’t be able to merge this data. Even if it wanted to, given contractual restrictions. But in June of 2016 Google went ahead and merged this data anyway — effectively destroying anonymity on the Internet,” she explained.

Demings then pressed Pichai on whether he personally signed off on the privacy-hostile move, given he became CEO of Google in 2015.

 

Pichai hesitated before attempting a bland response — only to be interrupted by Demings pressing him again: “Did you sign off on the decision or not?”

“I — I reviewed at a high level all the important decisions we make,” he said, after a micro pause.

He then segwayed in search of more comfortable territory, starting into Google’s usual marketing spiel — about how it “deeply cares about the privacy and security of our users”.

Demings was having none of it. The U-turn had enabled Google to combine a user’s search and browsing history, location data and information from emails stored in Gmail, she said, blasting it “absolutely staggering”.

She then referenced an email from a DoubleClick exec who had told the committee it was “exactly the kind of user reduction in privacy that users’ founders had previously worried would lead to a backlash”.

“‘They were unwavering on the policy due to philosophical reasons. Which is Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] fundamentally not wanting users associated with a cross-site cookie. They were also worried about a privacy storm, as well as damage to Google’s brand’,” she said, quoting directly from the email from the unnamed DoubleClick exec.

“So in 2007 Google’s founders feared making this change because they knew it would upset their users — but in 2016 Google didn’t seem to care,” Demings went on, before putting it to Pichai that what had changed between 2007 and 2016 is that Google gained “enormous market power”.

“So while Google had to care about user privacy in 2007 it no longer had to in 2016 — would you agree that what changed was Google gained enormous market power?” she asked.

The Alphabet and Google CEO responded by asking for a chance “to explain” — and then rattling off a list of controls Google offers users so they can try and shrink how it tracks them, further claiming it makes it “very easy” for people to control what it does with their information. (Some EU data regulators have taken a very different view of Google’s ‘transparency’, however.)

“We today make it very easy for users to be in control of their data,” claimed Pichai. “We have simplified their settings, they can turn ads personalization on or off — we have combined most of activity settings into three groupings. We remind users to go do a privacy check up. One billion users have done so.”

Demings, sounding unimpressed, cut him off again — saying: “I am concerned that Google’s bait and switch with DoubleClick is part of a broader pattern where Google buys up companies for the purposes of surveilling Americans and because of Google’s dominance users have no choice but to surrender.”

She went on to contend that “more user data means more money” for Google.

Pichai had a go at denying that — starting an answer with the claim that “in general that’s not true” before Demings repeated the contention: “So you’re saying that more user data does not mean the more money that Google can collect?”

That was easier for Pichai to sidestep. “Most of the data we collect is to help users and provide personalized experiences back”, he shot back, neatly avoiding the key point that the access Google has given itself to people’s data by cross linking their web browsing with Google IDs and product activity enables the tech giant to generate massive profits via targeting them with creepy ads, which in turn makes up the vast majority of Alphabet’s profit.

But with that Demings’ five minutes were up — although the hearing continues. You can tune in here.

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.

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.