Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner discuss the need to regulate large tech companies, the possibility of breaking up Amazon, and the importance of scrutinizing big institutions.
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Following is a transcript of the video:
Döpfner: But, your most prominent critic at the moment is the President of the United States. People are even saying that he may be willing to prepare initiatives to break up Amazon, because it’s too big, it’s too successful, it’s too dominant in too many sectors, or for varied other reasons, including the fact that he doesn’t like the “Post”. Is this break up scenario something that you take seriously, or do you think it’s just a fantasy?
Bezos: For me again, this is one of those things where I focus on and ask our teams to focus on what we can control, and I expect – whether it’s the current US administration or any other government agency around the world – Amazon is now a large corporation and I expect us to be scrutinized. We should be scrutinized. I think all large institutions should be scrutinized and examined. It’s reasonable. And one thing to note about is that we have gotten big in absolute terms only very recently. So we’ve always been growing very fast in percentage terms, but in 2010 just 8 years ago, we had 30,000 employees. So in the last 8 years we’ve gone from 30,000 employees to 560,000 employees. You know in my mind I’m still delivering the packages to the post office myself. You see what I’m saying? I still have all the memories of hoping that one day we could afford a forklift. So obviously my intellectual brain knows that’s just not the case anymore. We have 560,000 employees all over the world. And I know we should be scrutinized and I think it’s true that big government institutions should be scrutinized, big non-profit institutions should be scrutinized, big universities should be scrutinized. It just makes sense. And that’s, by the way, why the work at the “Washington Post” and all other great newspapers around the world do is so important. They are often the ones doing that initial scrutiny, even before the government agencies do.
Döpfner: The general sentiment concerning the big innovative tech companies has changed. Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple – they used to be seen as the nice guys in T-shirts that are saving the world. Now they are sometimes portrayed as the evil of the world. And the debate about the Big 4 or the Big 5 is heating up: Professors like Scott Galloway and “The Economist” are suggesting a split-up, other powerful people like George Soros are giving very critical speeches at Davos, and the EU Commission is taking pretty tough positions here. Do you think that there is a change in the mindset of society, and how should the big tech companies, how should Amazon deal with that?
Bezos: I think it’s a natural instinct, I think we humans, especially in the western world, and especially inside democracies are wired to be skeptical and mindful of large institutions of any kind. We’re skeptical always of our government in the United States, state governments and local governments. I assume it’s similar in Germany. It’s healthy, because they’re big, powerful institutions – the police, the military, or whatever it is. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust them, or that they’re bad or evil or anything like that. It’s just that they have a lot of power and control, and so you want to inspect them. Maybe that’s a better word. You kind of want to always be inspecting them. And if you look at the big tech companies, they have gotten large enough that they need and are going to be inspected. And by the way, it’s not personal. I think you can go astray on this if you’re the founder of a company – one of these big tech companies, or any other big institution. If you go astray on this, you might start to take it personally. Like “Why are you someone inspecting me?” And I wish that people would just say, “Yes, it’s fine”.