This week, the Internet was abuzz with news of TikTok's CEO, Chew Shou Zi as he went up against US lawmakers in an almost five-hour congressional hearing to prove that TikTok does not sell its data to the Chinese government, that it uses controls to protect younger users from harmful or inappropriate content and takes sufficient steps to protect the mental health of the young with controls.
Over the course of the week, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to multiple industry professionals and broke down Chew's composure, how he fared against lawmakers and in the public realm, why he seemed unable to convince a Singaporean audience that he really was local in his presentation and how on earth he became such an Internet 'zaddy' icon in a matter of days.
With Chew in the news, we decided to take a look back at five other major tech leaders such as Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerburg and Sundar Pichai who have gone up against US Congress and to see how they fared while in the hot seat.
Don't miss: TikTok's congressional hearing: CEO Chew Shou Zi might have lost the battle, but has won the war
1. Sundar Pichai - Alphabet
It seems like US Congress might need an intense lesson on how the Internet works because their track record really isn't all that great.
In 2018, Sundar Pichai the CEO of Google, testified before the House Judiciary Committee where lawmakers grilled him for about three and a half hours on issues such as possible political bias on Google, its plans for a censored search app in China as well as its privacy laws and practices.
Pichai put up a good fight with despite that being his first time in front of Congress and the fact that lawmakers questioning him clearly just did not know how the Internet actually works.
Things got heated at one point of the hearing when representative Ted Poe asked if Google would know if he moved from one side of the room to the other. Pichai calmly responded that it would depend on what settings he had on his phone and that he would not be able to give an answer unless he saw the phone. Poe interrupted him however to say that he wasn't asking him a "trick question" and that with his salary, which goes into the millions, he "ought to be able to answer [the] question."
Poe then insisted that this was a yes or no question. Laughing awkwardly, Pichai repeated that he could not answer the question without more details to which Poe said that he was "shocked" that he wouldn't know.
Another surprising moment came when Representative Zoe Lofgren said that she searched the word 'idiot' on Google and that a picture of Donald Trump appeared in the images. She asked how this was possible and said, "How does search work so that that would occur?"
Pichai, to his credit, did not laugh as he patiently explained how search works. Nor did he drop his composure when she asked if it was not some "little man sitting behind the curtain" figuring out what they were going to show users.
2. Jeff Bezos - Amazon
We know that going up against US Congress can be stressful but outrightly lying to some of the most powerful lawmakers in the world just seems like it might be a little bit of a bad idea.
In 2020, Amazon's founder appeared in front of Congress virtually to argue that Amazon does have a policy that protects seller data from its employees. The case was one that had been ongoing since 2019 when the House Judiciary Committee opened investigations into digital markets and how Amazon uses third party seller data from its platform. It also looked into if the company unfairly prioritises its own products over that of other sellers.
In Bezos' testimony, he said Amazon forbids its employees from accessing data on individual sellers to benefit Amazon's own-brand product lines. It was also affirmed that its algorithms are optimised to predict what customers might want to buy regardless of who the sellers are. Unfortunately, shortly after, a Reuters' investigation that say thousands of leaked internal Amazon documents found that this was not true, and that Amazon has a secret policy of manipulating its search results to favour Amazon's own products and that it also copies other seller's goods.
After some investigation, members of the House Judiciary Committee stated that they were considering referring Amazon for criminal investigation. While Amazon denied the allegations, many were still very skeptical.
3. Tim Cook - Apple
In 2021, Apple CEO Tim Cook appeared before Congress to defend the company from allegations that it abuses its significant market power by portraying itself as a principled company with an obsessive focus on users.
Cook took the stand largely to wrap up Apple's antitrust trial with Epic Games. Epic Games was suing Apple for removing its highly popular game, Fortnite, from its app store for going against its rules on digital payments by creating its own internal payment system. As Apple typically gets a cut of many in-app purchases on iOS device, it does not allow apps to have alternative payment systems. Epic Games accused Apple of having a monopoly over its walled garden iOS operating system and argued that Apple forces its app makers into very strict regulations that make it very difficult just to access iPhone and iPad users.
The exchange between Cook and Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers was a tense one with almost rapid fire questions being tossed Cook's way. However, Cook remained firm that Apple's regulations existed only for safety, security and privacy and that app developers could opt for other Android systems if they so wished. Essentially, Cook's strategy seems to be more focused on saying similar things in a confident way in order to convince lawmakers of his point.
Unfortunately, his strategy clearly did not work because both sides lost the lawsuit.
4. Mark Zuckerburg - Meta
In 2018, Meta's CEO faced US lawmakers in Congress for the first time over a data sharing scandal. During the grilling, to members of the public, it seemed as though US lawmakers loved the idea of spending hours upon hours on the riveting subject of data collection because Mark Zuckerburg was grilled for a marathon five hours on Facebook's privacy, data mining, regulations and Cambridge Analytica.
Zuckerburg appeared well practiced in his statements but was also clearly tired and grim, only eliciting laughs and smiles when he was offered a break but insisted on continuing to answer questions.
Unfortunately, US lawmakers came across rather appeared because they also asked a variety of bizarre questions. One of these include when Utah Senator Orrin Hatch asked Zuckerberg how he sustains a business model in which users do not pay for services. A rather awkward conversation then ensued:
"Senator, we run ads," Zuckerburg responded after a momentary pause in disbelief.
"I see. That's great." Hatch responded.
Zuckerburg also managed to contain himself from laughing out loud when Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz asked him if emailing within WhatApp, would inform advertisers. While we are certainly confused as to how one manages to email within Whatsapp, Zuckerburg calmly said that texts on WhatsApp would not result in related ads without correcting him which honesty, must have been a feat.
5. Jack Dorsey - Twitter
I suppose when you are the founder of Twitter, tweeting on the job isn't the worst thing you can do. In 2021, Jack Dorsey, Twitter's ex-CEO, went up against Congress alongside giants such as Zuckerburg and Pichai in a congressional hearing about misinformation on major social media platforms.
Lawmakers grilled CEOs on how their sites handled election fraud claims, vaccination misinformation and extremism. During the hearing, Dorsey decided to tweet out a poll with a question mark and a simple yes or no response option in an attempt to mock lawmakers that repeatedly demand a yes or no answer from the tech leaders before them.
In response, Democratic Representative Kathleen Rice asked him in front of lawmakers who was winning in his poll and called his multitasking skills "impressive".
We would vote yes on that for sure.
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