But at this year’s conference, held this week in Scottsdale, Arizona, a procession of top tech execs were pressed to answer the same difficult question again and again: What will happen if mounting antitrust scrutiny of the tech industry forces their companies to be broken up?
At the conference, several execs settled on a talking point that could well be repeated many times in the coming months as antitrust hearings and investigations get under way: Sure, you could break us up, but that won’t help consumers or society.
“I just think it’s a terrible idea,” Adam Mosseri, the head of Facebook subsidiary Instagram, said on stage on Monday. “Right now, there are more people who work on integrity and safety issues at Facebook than anyone who works at Instagram. … If you split us up, you would cut that off, and it would make those problems that much more difficult.”
Andy Jassy, the CEO of Amazon’s $25 billion cloud computing division, suggested breaking up Amazon would only make it harder for the company to “stay focused” on serving its customers. What customers want, he added, is more capabilities, not the company being distracted by having to build new financial systems, an HR system and manage analyst calls.
Jassy reluctantly admitted that Amazon might not have a choice in the matter in the end. “If we’re forced to do it, I guess we’d have to do it,” he said.
While the tech executives predictably balked at having their businesses broken into pieces, many did agree that regulation is needed to tackle a host of issues, including data privacy, content moderation and facial recognition services, such as Amazon’s Rekognition tool.
“If you want more protection, which I think is totally reasonable, the federal government should regulate it,” Jassy said, referring to facial recognition technology. “I wish they’d hurry up — if they don’t, you’re going to have 50 different laws in 50 different states.”
Wojcicki was equally matter-of-fact: “There’s definitely more regulation in store for us.”