Google lambasted for absence in congress hearing
MANILA, Philippines – Several US senators were visibly irked for having been snubbed by Google at the high-profile Big Tech hearing in Washington DC, Wednesday, September 5.
The Alphabet-owned search giant was missing-in-action in the congressional grilling, leaving its peers Facebook and Twitter to face US lawmakers seeking progress in the neutralization of social media manipulation.
The chair reserved for Google along with a nameplate were left in the witness row, supposedly, to highlight Google's absence in the crucial hearing.
The senators made sure, in their remarks and subsequent questioning, to point out the absence, expressing their heavy dismay.
Leading the charge was the Senate Intelligence Committee's vice chairman Mark Warner, a Democrat, who in his opening remarks said:
"I am deeply disappointed that Google, one of the most influential digital platforms in the world, chose not to send its own top corporate leadership to engage this committee.
I know our members have a series of difficult questions about structural vulnerabilities on a number of Google platforms that we all need answers for – from Google search, which continues to have problems surfacing absurd conspiracies, to YouTube, where Russian-backed disinformation agents promoted hundreds of divisive videos, to Gmail where state-sponsored operatives attempted countless hacking attemps. Google has an immense responsibility in this space.
Given its size and influence, I would have thought that leadership at Google would have wanted to demonstrate how seriously it takes these challenges, and actually take a leadership role in this discussion."
The lawmakers wanted either Google CEO Sundar Pichai or Google-parent Alphabet CEO Larry Page to testify, and rejected Google's offer of Kent Walker, the senior vice president of global affairs at Google. Walker, however, said a day before the hearing that he would still come to Washington "and brief lawmakers."
But the statement did little to appease the senators – and their absence meant they wouldn't be able to answer claims against them nor would they be able to shed light on positive developments as Facebook and Twitter did.
Republican senator Marco Rubio suggested that Google was maybe "arrogant" or that they were avoiding issues. Rubio, addressing Sandberg and Dorsey, said:
"There's an empty chair next to you for Google, they're not here today – maybe it's because they're arrogant or maybe because there's a report that, as of last night, this group went on basically pretending to be Kremlin-linked trolls. They used details of the Internet Research Agency, which is a Kremlin-linked troll farm, and were able to buy ads online and place them on sites like CNN, CBS, Huffpost, Daily Beast – so I'm sure they don't want to be here to answer these questions."
Tom Cotton, another Republican senator, had a few choice words as well. "Perhaps Google didn't send a senior executive today because they have recently taken actions such as terminating cooperation they had with the American military on programs like artificial intelligence," said Cotton.
"And credible reports suggest that they are working to develop a new search engine that would satisfy the Chinese communist party's censorship standards after having disclaimed any intent to do so 8 years ago. Perhaps they didn't send a witness to answer these questions because there is no answer to these questions," he added.
On the other hand, committee chairman Senator Richard Burr was a little more forgiving of the snub, acknowleding some of Google's own positive developments. "Google's own internal security team did commendable work disrupting this influence operation, and we would have valued the opportunity to speak with them at the appropriate level of corporate representation. Nevertheless, their efforts should be acknowledged," said Burr.
"I'm disappointed that Google decided against sending the right senior level executive to participate in what I truly expect to be a productive discussion," Burr added, just after commending Facebook and Twitter's "willlingness to be part of the solution."
Google faces issues such as user privacy pertaining to location tracking, accusations of anti-conservative bias, Gmail privacy, and reports of developing a censor-friendly search engine in China in order to re-enter the market which it exited in 2010. – Rappler.com