Big Tech will face new scrutiny on July 27 when the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google appear in front of a House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee as witnesses in an antitrust probe.
But those conversations may not be as productive as critics to those platforms hope they will be, said Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at the New York University Stern School of Business.
Adweek caught up with the author and entrepreneur to discuss how the Covid-19 pandemic has made these companies even stronger and what could be next for intervention.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Adweek: The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google will go before the antitrust subcommittee Monday in D.C. How do you think this hearing will compare to [Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress a couple years ago?
Scott Galloway: Big Tech has negotiated rules and engagement that favor them. It weakens the entire experience or makes the experience less effective or less revealing. It’s safety in numbers. They shouldn’t have done all four at the same time. To call in all of Big Tech is a bit reductionist—the issues facing Apple are different than the issues facing Facebook.
The biggest winners here are [Apple CEO Tim] Cook, [Amazon CEO Jeff] Bezos and [Google parent Alphabet CEO] Sundar [Pichai] because the majority of the ire will be saved for Zuckerberg. This was a mistake. Now, it’s going to be a bit of a food fight. We’re going to have to change gears so much that the public will never get a clear signal. I think it’ll be interesting; good theater with all famous celebrities. But, in terms of actually getting to the root cause or making any progress, it’ll be more spectacle than historic.
Do you think the conversation has evolved since Zuckerberg testified in 2018?
We need the legislators at the antitrust phase, and we should’ve come to it five years ago.
There will be a couple unscripted moments, and that’s why these things are powerful. Where the rubber meets the road here is not in these hearings, but the Department of Justice and the FTC [Federal Trade Commission].
Where do you see tangible, fundamental intervention taking place?
I’m not sure I do. If you can tell me who gets elected in November …
I feel that essentially Zuckerberg and [President Donald] Trump have entered into an unholy alliance. Facebook has said we’ll continue to let Trump weaponize the platform and, in exchange, Trump will keep the FTC and DOJ dogs at bay. If Trump gets reelected, I don’t know if anything is going to happen. If [Joe] Biden does get elected, we’ll probably see regulation by the end of 2021.
What do you think of the big-name brands boycotting advertising on Facebook this month?
It’s heartening and admirable that big companies have boycotted Facebook, and the symbolism is much greater than the financial impact.
It’s the Terminator 2 [Judgment Day] movie where The Terminator would remove its arm and reform. That’s what the Facebook advertising base is: If somebody stops advertising, a competitor will fill that hole. The elasticity and the diversity and the robustness of Facebook’s advertising base is what I’d call the most liquid and the most self-repairing of any advertiser base ever assembled in the history of business.
Granted, this is a glass half full. They’ll pretend to make some changes, but Facebook has a lot more power on the advertisers than they have on them. That’s the danger of the monopoly. The monopoly doesn’t have an incentive to respond.
It’s just more spectacle. The hearings, the boycott, this is literally pissing into the ocean.