Microsoft is now the ‘adult in the room’ among big tech: Seattle Congresswoman
The so-called FAAMG stocks have been the destination of Washington, DC year-round.
At least most of them.
The CEOs of Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL) and Google (toget) were interviewed virtually before Congress this summer and are now the focus of a 451-page report published this week on their business practices.
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Facebook, Google and Twitter (TWTR) will be back for a Senate hearing before the legislature later this month.
But Microsoft (MSFT) - no stranger to inquiries from Congress in recent years - has largely managed to escape the glare.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) during a December hearing in Washington, DC. (Andrew Harrer-Pool / Getty Images)
That's because they're now "in a way, the adults in the room," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.), A Democratic member of the House Antitrust Subcommittee that deals with the practices of big tech has the last 16 months.
The final report does not call for companies to be dissolved, but does speak of the need for “structural separations” to prevent one part of a company from using another part of its platform to gain an unfair advantage.
The idea is a "roadmap" to restore competition, improve innovation and protect democracy, say the democratic authors of the report, MEPs Jerrold Nadler and David N. Cicilline.
"I had an open door policy"
The Seattle neighborhood of Jayapal includes Amazon's headquarters, and the company's business practices, particularly its use of third-party data, have been one of their main focuses.
It is the job of Congress to ensure that “a company like Amazon cannot put a small diaper-making company out of business simply by using all of the market information that no one else has access to to subsidize losses and crowd out small businesses, "Jayapal told Yahoo Finance.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, testifies via video conference during a hearing on "Online Platforms and Market Power" on Capitol Hill in July (Graeme Jennings / Pool via REUTERS).
She also had a less warm relationship with Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. During a Yahoo Finance interview this summer, Jayapal said she had never met the billionaire before. They were practically talking in July when she grilled him during the hearings, but she said this week that communication has been sparse since then.
"I had an open house policy to speak to Mr Bezos and have invited him many times," she said. Although she met with senior executives from Amazon.
Microsoft as a counterexample
"The lesson here is that self-regulation doesn't work," Jayapal said. She points to Microsoft as an example Amazon should follow in order to work successfully with the government.
In 1998, Microsoft was the subject of an antitrust investigation by Congress, and many wanted to liquidate the company. In the end, Bill Gates was able to avoid a breakup by promising to change the way his company behaved.
In 1992, photographers focused on Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee whether his company was suppressing competition. (JESSICA PERSSON / AFP via Getty Images)
The company had to "change its culture, change its businesses," said Jayapal. The process of government involvement resulted in Microsoft creating a "platform for other small businesses to thrive," she said.
Jayapal is perhaps the most liberal member of the team tasked with investigating Big Tech. Jayapal was elected to Congress in 2016 and is considered a mentor to democratic newbies such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib.
Jayapal also cited Microsoft's example of why dissolving a company isn't always the best option.
"Maybe in hindsight, Amazon, after we regulated them, after going through some of the recommendations in the report, we will look back and say," You know what? It's good that happened, "she said.
Ben Werschkul is a Washington, DC-based producer for Yahoo Finance.
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