Four of the most powerful men in the world have been called to appear (virtually) before Congress in a star-studded event years in the making. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg are set to be grilled over whether their respective companies exert too much influence and control -- to the point that they're stamping out potential competitors.
At least, that's the motivation behind why they've been called up. The reality is they'll likely be asked about everything from political bias to what they've been doing about climate change. And while faces on monitors won't produce the kind of political theater that members of the House of Representatives are likely looking for, expect to see some tense exchanges.
In case you're interested in their opening statements,.
While most of these executives have been to Washington DC, this marks the first time all four CEOs will appear in the same hearing.
But how did they get to this spot? The following is a cheat sheet that offers a quick bio of each of the executives.
At the start of the dot-com boom, Jeff Bezos left his job as a hedge fund executive to start Amazon as an online bookseller in 1994 out of a Bellevue, Washington, garage. The online store is now the world's largest e-retailer and sells hundreds of millions of products. It also runs a Hollywood studio, manufactures its own hardware and operates Amazon Web Services, one of the biggest cloud-computing outfits.
Bezos is the world's richest person, with a net worth of about $180 billion. Nearly all his wealth comes from his 12% ownership in Amazon, one of the world's most valuable publicly traded companies. After his divorce last year, his ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos, became one of the world's richest people, now worth nearly $60 billion.
The Amazon boss personally owns The Washington Post, which he purchased for $250 million in 2013. He also owns Blue Origin, a rocket and space travel company he founded in 2000.
Bezos' ownership of the Post, as well as his decision to bring a new second headquarters to the Washington, DC, area, has made him a much bigger presence in the nation's capital. But with that new attention came new problems: President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized The Washington Post as a lobbying arm of Amazon (it's not). These false claims likely stem from the Post's tough coverage of the White House, as well as a long-simmering feud between the two men. While Bezos prodded Trump during the 2016 election, he has avoided publicly criticizing the president since then.
from being the public face of Amazon in recent years, largely avoiding press interviews and letting his leadership team speak on behalf of the company. When he does talk publicly, it's often about subjects unrelated to Amazon, like space travel and climate change. As such, he has the least experience with Congress among the four executives.
Lawmakers have been especially focused on Amazon's private-label business, which sells the company's brands of items like clothing, batteries and coffee pods. Congressional members are concerned Amazon is unfairly using internal data about independent sellers on its website to compete against them with its own products. Bezos initially rebuffed calls for him to testify Wednesday, but conceded after he was threatened with a subpoena.
--Ben Fox Rubin
Tim Cook joined Apple in 1998, following his work as a vice president at rival computer maker Compaq. At Apple, he oversaw the operations teams, managing factories, warehouses and manufacturers, and procuring parts. He was named CEO in 2011, when Steve Jobs stepped down shortly before his death from cancer.
Though Apple under Cook has flourished, it hasn't been without controversy.
In 2013, The New York Times was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its series on Apple, writing about its patent strategy, overseas manufacturing practices, the App Store and its retail stores. The Times also discussed Apple's tax strategy, and the seeming lengths the tech giant went to in efforts to "sidestep" billions of dollars in global taxes.
The outrage over Apple's tax practices eventually led to a congressional hearing in May 2013, during which Cook hit back, saying the company was "the largest corporate income tax payer in America." Apple, he said at the time, pays "the taxes it owes. Every single dollar."
Around the time Trump was voted president in 2016, Cook began traveling more to Washington to meet with lawmakers and to attend high-profile events with Trump on a range of issues. Cook sat a seat away from then-President-elect Trump during a December 2016 roundtable with tech executives a month before his inauguration. And since then, Cook has attended White House events discussing US manufacturing and investments. Cook was also invited to a state dinner honoring French President Emmanuel Macron in 2018.
In turn, Trump has touted Apple's investments, including a new $1 billion campus in Austin, Texas, that was announced in 2018.
It hasn't all been rosy, however. Cook regularly criticizes Trump on social and cultural issues, including minority rights, visas for foreign workers and the environment. Apple products were also caught up in Trump's trade war with China, initially being subject to impending tariffs before the White House struck a deal, halting the standoff with the Chinese government.
Apple's dominant App Store, the only way for a developer to get a program onto an iPhone, is the subject of scrutiny by Congress, with some lawmakers questioning whether the company charges too high a commission to developers. Apple last week issued a report based on economists it hired to argue that the fees are similar to those its competitors.
Sundar Pichai has a lower profile than Zuckerberg, Bezos and Cook, but that belies the power and influence he wields. Pichai was born in Chennai, India, and attended the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, one of the country's most prestigious schools, before earning master's degrees at both Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school. He joined Google in 2004 after stints at Applied Materials and McKinsey & Co.
Famously mild-mannered, Pichai took the top job at Alphabet late last year, after Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped aside after more than 20 years. Pichai had already been heading Google, the part of the conglomerate that includes its juggernaut search engine, maps service and YouTube. It was the latest in a rapid ascent for the Google veteran, who previously ran the Android and Chrome businesses. The promotion also put him in charge of self-driving cars, efforts to extend the human lifespan and the rest of Alphabet's vast universe.
Google faces antitrust scrutiny from several angles. The US Department of Justice is investigating Google's massive digital advertising business, and is expected to file a lawsuit against the search giant this summer. The company is also ensnared in another probe by a coalition of state attorneys general, led by Texas attorney general Ken Paxton.
Wednesday's hearing is Pichai's second visit to Capitol Hill for a congressional grilling. He faced the House Judiciary committee in December 2018, fielding questions about Google's data collection practices, relationship with China and alleged anti-conservative bias.
The hearing came after Pichai was a no-show to a hearing earlier that year, when Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter's Jack Dorsey faced the Senate. Pichai and Page had been invited, and when they declined, an empty chair and a nameplate that said "GOOGLE" appeared next to the leaders of the other two companies.
Mark Zuckerberg co-founded Facebook in 2004 while attending Harvard University, dropping out of college to eventually turn the fledgling site into a social media powerhouse. But after years of rapid growth and rising profits, people's views on the company soured amid controversy after controversy.
Zuckerberg is no stranger to sitting in the congressional hot seat. The 36-year-old tech mogul has been grilled by US lawmakers in three hearings in 2018 and 2019 about the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the social network's plans to introduce a new cryptocurrency called Libra. For the most part, he's walked away from these lengthy hearings unscathed. He's met privately with politicians, including President Trump, after he called for more government regulation around harmful content, privacy, election security and data portability.
Facebook has also hired employees who have worked in the Obama administration, which in 2017 led to speculation that Zuckerberg was thinking about running for president in 2020. Zuckerberg shot down those rumors, and the chances of that happening took a nosedive after Facebook's seemingly endless list of scandals. Cambridge Analytica, a UK political consultancy, harvested the data of up to 87 million Facebook users without their permission. Meanwhile, Russian trolls used social media to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election, attempting to sow discord among Americans. Facebook continues to take heat for not fact-checking posts and ads from politicians who spread misinformation.
It's hard to argue over the company's dominance. As of March, nearly 3 billion people used one of Facebook's apps at least once a month. All of that power, along with the company's problems, has fueled calls for Facebook to spin off acquisitions such as Instagram and WhatsApp -- which each boast more than a billion monthly active users -- as separate businesses and allow them to compete with rivals on a more level playing field.
The social network's scandals have also raised concerns that Zuckerberg simply wields too much unchecked power. Despite all of Facebook's woes, Zuckerberg has been able to keep his job. That's because he has majority voting rights in the company and is the chairman of Facebook's board of directors.
Now Facebook is facing several antitrust probes, including from the Federal Trade Commission, the US Department of Justice, the House antitrust committee and a group of state attorneys general. The company says that breaking it up won't make it easier to tackle challenges around privacy and election security. Zuckerberg's goal over the next decade isn't to be liked but to be understood. Appearing before Congress gives him yet another opportunity to defend the company's actions and make his case for more regulation.