There was quite a bit of symbolism when the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google appeared before the anti-trust committee of the House of Representatives of the US Congress last week. Here were the heads of the world’s most valuable companies, captains of the tech industry and some of the world’s richest men summoned to defend themselves before elected representatives of the world’s most powerful state.
All four men looked suitably humble and contrite. They even dispensed with their trademark Silicon Valley superhero costumes for the sober formal suit — well, at least on their visible upper bodies. So, here was the State demonstrating its supremacy over private companies, with the richest merchants of the kingdom bowing before the monarch’s court.
Yet, the hearing itself was conducted using a videoconferencing application over broadband internet, demonstrating just how dependent the modern State is on technology companies. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic — and indeed because of it — the four companies have outperformed the rest of the US economy. Together they are currently worth almost $5 trillion. On the day of the anti-trust hearing, they, together with Microsoft, represented over 20 per cent of the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock market index. Such a concentration of wealth is extraordinary and has taken place after 42 years. As for ordinary citizens, as a New York Times journalist admitted, it is impossible to live without using the technology and services they provide.