Illustration of Big Tech firms

Four misleading claims tech CEOs told Congress

On Wednesday, the CEOs of four massive tech companies — Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon — testified before a congressional investigation about those companies’ anti-competitive practices.

The CEOs were eager to portray their companies as under constant threat from competitors. However, the congressional subcommittee raised multiple examples of the companies using their power to spy on, crush, coerce, or acquire competitors.

While the hearing did not reveal any particularly new information, it did force Sundar Pichai, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos to confirm or deny (or obfuscate) their part in the consolidation of power on the Internet. In doing so, they made a number of questionable claims that do not hold up under scrutiny. 

We have had direct experience with some of these issues, and we believe it is important to share our perspective and set the record straight. We will focus mainly on Google and Apple because we have had the most exposure to their practices, but our overarching concerns are applicable across Big Tech.

Claim: Google lets users control their data

Responding to a question from US Rep. Val Demings, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that “we today make it very easy for users to be in control of their data.” This is only partially true, depending on how you define “control.”

This assertion is part of a public relations push(new window) Google started last year, during which it implemented new privacy settings and features, such as the ability to turn off personalized ads. But Google continues to collect mountains of data about its users.

True data control would be incompatible with Google’s current business model. Google makes money by creating detailed profiles about all its users and then selling ads on the basis of that information. The process is opaque to users. And this lack of privacy and control is the implicit exchange for access to free services.

Claim: iOS and Android app stores have strong competition

Apple’s iOS controls 25% of the global smartphone market, and Google’s Android mostly takes up the other 75%. (In the valuable US market, Apple enjoys even more market share.)

Nonetheless, when questioned by Rep. Hank Johnson about its monopoly on app distribution on its smartphones, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “I would describe it as a street fight.” He also said, “There is a competition for developers just as there is a competition for customers.” Cook even said the App Store is just like any other feature, comparing it to a camera.

This argument is patently absurd. Cook is ignoring the fact that the App Store is a market itself, in which Apple holds 100%. 

Developers do not have the option to seek other app distribution methods. Being in business is synonymous with having an app on both the App Store and Google Play. So it is by definition a duopoly on the mobile market.

Claim: Apple is not a gatekeeper

Cook was repeatedly questioned about the App Store and whether it uses its distribution platform to privilege its own apps and suppress competition. 

“Clearly, if Apple is a gatekeeper, what we have done is open the gate wider,” Cook said. “We want to get every app we can on the Store, not keep them off.”

But the App Store — just like Google Play, Facebook’s News Feed, or Amazon’s web hosting service — have become bottlenecks that give these companies immense power to throttle access to consumer markets or abuse data.

Despite Cook’s claims that apps may only be blocked because of privacy or functionality concerns, there is a litany of app developers who say Apple’s App Store rules are opaque, arbitrary, and inconsistently applied. We have experienced Apple’s problematic behavior first-hand(new window) with our Proton VPN iOS app, in which they threatened to remove our app entirely unless we deleted information from our app description that the Chinese and other authoritarian governments deemed objectionable.

Even if we were to accept the “open gate” premise, Apple’s 30% tax handicaps developers in the privacy space, favoring free apps that make their money by abusing people’s data. We have previously written about this in depth(new window).

Claim: Google believes privacy is a universal right

In his submitted opening remarks to the subcommittee, Pichai said, “I’ve always believed that privacy is a universal right and should be available to everyone.”

There’s not much to say about this comment, except that it is extremely ironic. Pichai runs a company whose entire premise is to invade people’s privacy. As his predecessor once said: “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

Doublespeak like this is troubling, and we hope that Congress — and Internet users — are paying attention. Because this isn’t just about antitrust. It’s about access to privacy and being able to control your own data.

We started Proton in 2014 in part because of the same concerns that are coming to light today. We believe society is better served when individuals have more control over their data online. By offering encrypted email, calendar, cloud storage, and other services, Proton is providing consumers with concrete tools to protect their privacy and security.

All these years later, very little about these companies’ business practices has changed, and they’ve only gotten bigger.

Best Regards,
The Proton Team

You can get a free secure email account from Proton Mail here(new window).

We also provide a free VPN service(new window) to protect your privacy.

Proton Mail and Proton VPN are funded by community contributions. If you would like to support our development efforts, you can upgrade to a paid plan(new window). Thank you for your support.

Protect your privacy with Proton
Create a free account

Related articles

Email threads are so ubiquitous you might not realize what they are. An email thread is basically a series of related emails grouped together.  This article will tell you everything you need to know about what exactly an email thread is and when you
Identity theft is a major sector of criminal activity. About 24 million people fell victim in the United States alone in 2021, costing them over $16 billion. Credit card fraud is the most common type, but criminals target all kinds of personal data.
Google is one of the biggest obstacles to privacy. The Big Tech giant may offer quick access to information online, but it also controls vast amounts of your personal or business data. Recently, more people are becoming aware of the actual price you
What to do if someone steals your Social Security number
If you’re a United States citizen or permanent resident, you have a Social Security number (SSN). This number is the linchpin of much of your existence, linked to everything from your tax records to your credit cards. Theft is a massive problem, whic
compromised passwords
Compromised passwords are a common issue and probably one of the biggest cybersecurity threats for regular people. How do passwords get compromised, and is there anything you can do to prevent it? * What does compromised password mean? * How do pa
Is WeTransfer safe?
  • Privacy basics
WeTransfer is a popular service used by millions worldwide to send large files. You may have wondered if it’s safe or whether you should use it to share sensitive files. We answer these questions below and present a WeTransfer alternative that may su