Pichai grilled at Capitol Hill –
Google is too powerful to survive.
The scheduled hearing for Google CEO Sundar Pichai before the House Judiciary Committee lasted for around three and a half hours, and seemed to indicate that things are only going to get tougher for tech firms like Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon in the days to come.
It covered a range of issues like privacy, data protection and digital monopolies.
On user privacy for instance, Rep. Ted Poe asked while waving his device, “I’ve got an iPhone. Can Google track me when I move?” Pichai answered that it would not happen by default, and the true answer was “complicated” even as Ted wanted a yes/no response.
A question on why Donald Trump’s face popped up every time someone typed Google in search results was a source of much amusement.
Another Re Lamar Smith asked Pichai why 96% of the search results on Trump take users to liberal media sites, even though the data point has been deemed as flawed. Conservatives have been up in arms against Google for its alleged liberal bias, especially due to some recent leaks. For instance, The Daily Caller accessed internal chats at Google.
In one of them, an engineer suggests reducing visibility of websites like Breitbart and The Daily Caller. Similarly Breitbart has internal emails and a leaked video where Google employees are told to monitor it for hate speech, ironically another area where Google is criticised for not doing enough.
Both Democrats and Republicans wanted to know if Google was rigging search results. President Donald Trump has accused the company of this.
Regulatory authorities in Europe have also accused Google of gaining unfair advantage over other e-commerce sites and fined it a sum of US$ 2.8 billion, for which Google has filed an appeal.
Google is also accused of being biased and largely left-leaning, though with Democrats emerging as the majority party now, this could soon change.
Discourse could now shift to misinformation by foreign entities especially Russia in the coming months. Lawmakers also asked Google about the censored search engine in China, for which Pichai could only say that the company has no plans to launch it for now. In an interview to The Washington Post after the hearing, Pichai admitted that Google navigates tricky waters in setting global policies on issues such as hate speech or political opinions that might spread falsehoods — or appear as censorship.
House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte said during his opening remarks that Google collects enough data to make the National Security Agency blush.
Actually this concern transcends Google, as Pichai is the third CEO after Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter – to be grilled on Capitol Hill in 2018.
This is a larger sign of the unease within governments across the globe about the excess of power that is vested with large tech companies today and the potential for its misuse.
Most dramatically in a worst-case scenario, regulators could even consider breaking large tech companies down into smaller entities like John Rockfeller’s Standard Oil into 34 companies that include the iconic Exxon, Amoco, Mobil and Chevron in 1911.
It’s not for nothing that data is called the oil of the 21st century.