The novel coronavirus has bolstered demand for services provided by tech giants like Amazon (AMZN) and Facebook (FB), as the vast majority of Americans are forced into their homes. But the greater reliance on the firms has also drawn scrutiny to misinformation on their platforms and working conditions in their warehouses, among other issues.
In a newly released interview, taped on April 7, Quibi CEO Meg Whitman called on tech giants and their leaders to recognize the “big responsibility” to the public that comes with the economic power they command and the central role they play in the everyday lives of Americans. But she said that she does not favor breaking the companies up.
“The leaders of those companies and the culture of those companies has to be very mindful of the public trust that they hold,” says Whitman, who formerly served as the CEO at Hewlett Packard and eBay. “That’s a challenge.”
“That’s the most important thing right now that that these companies can think through,” she adds.
‘There’s misinformation that has to be looked at’
Since the outbreak, Amazon has announced the hiring of hundreds of thousands of workers to meet a surge in demand for its e-commerce delivery amid a spike in demand for essential goods and reluctance to leave the house. Meanwhile, social media platform Facebook has seen a spike in usage, and the public has sought information on Google about the disease.
“There’s a big responsibility to running these enormous companies now that have such a say over how we think about the world,” Whitman says. “How we buy things; how we connect with each other.”
She cited specific issues faced by Amazon, Facebook, and Google as they grow.
“There’s misinformation that has to be looked at, in terms of Facebook,” she says. “There’s Amazon’s market power, there’s Google’s market share in terms of service, and there’s a whole host of issues.
Whitman made the remarks during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Ultimately, Whitman said she does not believe that the large tech firms should be broken up, citing the likelihood of upstart companies that will compete with the incumbent brands.
“I probably would not necessarily be in favor of breaking these companies up,” she says. “I think there will be new competitors. It may take another few years, but I think there will be new competitors that will do something better than they do.”
Antitrust concerns about the tech giants in Washington D.C. took shape last year, when in June the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission reportedly agreed to divvy up responsibility for investigating each of the big four tech companies. The Department of Justice would investigate Google and Apple (AAPL), while the Federal Trade Commission would probe Facebook and Amazon.
The U.S. House, also last year, opened a wide-ranging probe into the market power of the big tech companies. At a hearing related to that inquiry in January, executives from small tech companies accused their bigger peers — Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook — of unfairly leveraging control of the sector.
Whitman praised the hearings in Congress but said that big tech poses a challenge for lawmakers.
“These hearings on Capitol Hill, I think are probably pretty helpful,” she says. “There are members of Congress who are who are understanding of what’s happening who have a good point of view here.”
“But it’s a very difficult thing,” she adds. “The economy is gigantic and complex, more interconnected than it’s ever been.”