Published: Jan. 17, 2020

Executives from four companies feeling hamstrung by big tech aired their grievances in front of members of Congress at CU Boulder Friday.

Members of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law hosted their first field hearing in a decade in the University of Colorado Law School’s Wittemyer Courtroom.

Startups Basecamp, PopSockets, Tile and Sonos each had representatives in front of the subcommittee complaining about the practices of major technology players, such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.

Sonos’ CEO Patrick Spence laid out the ways Amazon and Google have allegedly undercut his company’s smart speaker products. Spence said his competitors subsidize their smart speakers with data collection from users.

Tile’s Kirsten Daru told the subcommittee Apple created unfair competition to their item-finding product by making it more difficult to enable Tile products on iPhones. Meanwhile, Daru said, Apple’s own item-finding products are easily enabled by one touch of a button.

Several of the company representatives complained about Google allegedly burying search results in order to incentivize advertising purchases. They alleged that Google, Amazon and Apple all lean on their dominance to force companies into accepting less-than-reasonable terms.

Advocating for Congressional action on tech marketplace

The companies all advocated for Congress taking action to level the playing field. They recommended breaking up major companies like Facebook and Amazon. They also pushed for more legislation and regulation on data use and sales practices. 

The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), includes Vice Chair Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.). Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) was also at the hearing as a guest of the committee.

“The state of Colorado—and the 2nd Congressional District in particular—is a hub for tech innovation and ingenuity,” said Rep. Neguse. “I’m proud to secure this opportunity to highlight Colorado on the national level and bring my congressional colleagues to learn about the growing vibrant and strong tech community in our district, and to continue our work as a committee on anti-trust matters and ensuring federal conditions enable such ingenuity in Colorado and across the nation to grow.” 

Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook did not testify on Friday. The subcommittee members said they appreciated the opportunity to hear from companies with smaller lobbying budgets.

“Through the subcommittee’s investigation, it has become clear that the dominant online platforms have tremendous power to shape and influence online commerce,” said Rep. Cicilline. “This hearing is an opportunity to hear directly from a diverse group of innovative companies that are forced to rely on these platforms as gatekeepers to reach consumers and the online marketplace.”

A hub for innovation and policy

The hearing was the second Congressional hearing Colorado Law hosted over the last six months.

“CU Boulder is where policy and research intersect,” said Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano. “We are excited to have our experts join with national policymakers and industry leaders to discuss the future of technology and the economy.”

S. James Anaya, dean of Colorado Law, said the law school is pleased to feature these kinds of important, high-profile events. 

"From congressional hearings to an annual session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which we hosted in fall 2018, we are proud to provide a platform for official inquiries of national and often international importance," Anaya said.

Watch the full hearing via Colorado Law's YouTube channel.