Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple didn’t become four of the biggest tech companies in the world overnight – and newly surfaced documents show the tough, often-cutthroat decisions made by top executives at the company at pivotal moments in their growth.
Members of the US Congress obtained emails, memos, and internal studies from the four companies as part of an ongoing antitrust investigation. They were published Wednesday when the CEOs of the four companies testified in an unprecedented Congressional hearing.
The documents reveal how top executives at the tech giants including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs guided their companies’ growth and jousted with perceived threats. They also paint a picture of four tech companies aggressively pursuing growth at all costs, chasing acquisitions and strategising against possible competitors.
Many of the lawmakers leading the US House Antitrust Committee’s investigation said the documents are evidence that the companies wield too much power. But the four CEOs repeatedly framed their actions as necessary steps to keep their companies alive.
Facebook emails show Zuckerberg worried ‘Instagram can hurt us’ before acquisition
Months before Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion, Zuckerberg wrote in an email that he was concerned “Instagram can hurt us meaningfully without becoming a huge business.”
In a different email, a colleague questioned whether Zuckerberg’s reasoning for wanting to acquire Instagram was to either neutralise a competitor or improve Facebook.
In his response, Zuckerberg said it was a combination of both. He then replied to that email 45 minutes later to clarify that “I didn’t mean to imply that we’d be buying them to prevent them from competing with us in any way.”
At one point in Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, accused Zuckerberg of leveraging acquisitions of companies he saw as threats.
“These tactics reinforce Facebook’s dominance which you then use in increasingly destructive way,” Jayapal said.
Zuckerberg said in response that Facebook doesn’t aim to intimidate or pressure competitors.
“I respectfully disagree with the premise,” he said.
Amazon emails show how the company tried to hobble Diapers.com before acquiring it
Emails published by the US Congress show Amazon aimed to undercut Quidsi, the parent company of Diapers.com and Soap.com, before acquiring the company for $545 million in 2010.
“We have already initiated a more aggressive ‘plan to win’ against diapers.com,” Herrington apparently wrote in an email released by the committee. “To the extent that this plan undercuts the core diapers business for diapers.com, it will slow the adoption of Soap.com … We need to match pricing on these guys no matter what the cost.”
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, a Pennsylvania Democrat, questioned Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos about the emails Wednesday and accused Amazon of routinely weakening competitors with low prices, even if it caused Amazon to take a loss. Bezos responded that he didn’t remember the situation described in the emails about Diapers.com and that Amazon sets low prices to win over customers.
“I cannot comment on that because I don’t remember it,” Bezos said. “What I can tell you is that we are very, very focused on the customer.”
New emails show how Steve Jobs used Apple’s control over the app store to ‘cut off’ developers
The US Congress published emails that show former Apple CEO Steve Jobs wielding the company’s control over its app store to punish developers.
In one 2010 email, Jobs suggests the company “cut off” Joe Hewitt, a developer that didn’t want to comply with Apple’s new requirement that iPhone apps be written in Apple’s native programming language.
“I’d suggest we just cut Joe off from now on,” he said.
Emails suggest Google feared competitors that could divert traffic away from its own products
Rep. David Cicilline, chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee, said that newly published emails from over a decade ago show Google repeatedly considering whether to delist companies from search that it found threatening.
“These documents show that Google’s staff discussed ‘the proliferating threat’ that these web pages pose to Google. Any traffic lost to other sites was a loss in revenue,” Cicilline said.
Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, said in reply that the company prioritises users’ experiences, but did not directly address anticompetitive concerns.
“When I run the company, I’m really focused on giving users what they want. We conduct ourselves to the highest standard,” Pichai said.