Editorial | How to Hold Big Tech’s Feet to the Fire – The New York Times

Here are some questions subcommittee members ought to consider:

The subcommittee will probably focus on the company’s relationship with third-party merchants that use the site to sell directly to consumers. Such merchants represent about 60 percent of Amazon’s sales. The company also operates an enormous shipping network, an advertising sales business and a cloud computing service that may raise alarms among regulators. Amazon’s trove of sales data gives it incredibly detailed insights into both customers and merchants.

  • After an investigation by German regulators, Amazon vowed last year to overhaul its contracts with third-party merchants. Did the company adequately do so? Does Amazon have contracts that require lower prices than other retailers’? Does it require exclusivity, meaning merchants cannot offer their goods on other sellers’ websites?

  • An Amazon lawyer told the panel, “We don’t use individual seller data directly to compete” with other businesses on Amazon’s site. But a Wall Street Journal report showed evidence that Amazon does just that, helping it create tailored private-label products that undercut competitors. What is the extent of Amazon’s use of seller data?

  • Amazon offers its sellers warehousing and shipping services worldwide. What does it seek in return, beyond a commission? Does Amazon use sales data from small merchants to source new products or to help larger sellers succeed, forcing out smaller ones?

  • In 2010, Amazon dropped diaper prices well below profitability, in a successful effort to force a competitor, Diapers.com, into acquisition talks. Amazon has since shuttered that site. Does Amazon view such actions as exclusionary? And is the company engaged in other such pricing wars in order to force a competitor to sell?

  • A Washington Post investigation showed that Amazon pushes consumers toward its private-label products even when they appear to want to buy name brands. Does Amazon favor its own products in consumers’ searches? Does it require fees or advertising purchases from merchants or brands to ensure their products rise to the top of searches?

While Apple is best known for its iPhones and laptops, it also has healthy competition from companies like Samsung and Lenovo in hardware sales. As a result, Mr. Cook is most likely to be asked about the structure of Apple’s App Store, where millions of software developers offer their apps for download.

  • Why does Apple permit only its own app store on iPhones?

  • Developers are generally required to offer their in-app purchases and paid subscriptions through Apple’s App Store, rather than on their own websites, where they may avoid Apple’s commissions. Apple has threatened to remove apps that don’t abide. How is this in the best interest of consumers and app developers?

  • Some app developers have alleged that Apple uses the detailed data it collects about app downloads to copy their ideas and that the company favors its own apps in searches. Is this true? If so, how does the company defend such practices?

Facebook’s aggressive acquisition strategy — including the giants Instagram and WhatsApp — makes it vulnerable to a breakup if regulators find that it was trying to rid the market of real competition.

  • Reportedly, the Federal Trade Commission had documents demonstrating Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 in an explicit bid to stifle a competitor. Were those documents mischaracterized? How did Facebook’s buying Instagram benefit consumers, and how did it determine the $1 billion price?

  • British lawmakers released emails showing Facebook used an analytics app to collect detailed data about competitors in order to snuff them out. That helped Facebook decide to buy WhatsApp for $19 billion, the emails show. Couldn’t that be called an abuse of market power? Does Facebook still cull proprietary data on rivals in order to protect its market leadership?

  • Advertisers can target customers on Facebook with incredible accuracy, in part because of the platform’s ability to track users’ internet browsing activity across the web. Shouldn’t users consider those terms onerous? Also, has Facebook made assurances about the privacy of customer data that it later reneged on? What assurances do consumers have that their data will remain private and not be repurposed for Facebook’s benefit?

  • According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook quashed efforts to make its site less politically divisive because partisan content drives more use of the site, which is beneficial to its advertising business. How can suppressing opposing views for users be viewed as anything but an abuse of power?