WASHINGTON — Google executives, after months of mostly avoiding the harsh spotlight put on their internet peers, are being grilled in Washington this week by lawmakers questioning if the Silicon Valley giant is living up to its promise to be a neutral arbiter of online information.
On Friday, Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, will meet with Representative Kevin McCarthy, of California, the Republican House majority leader and a vocal critic of Google, and more than two dozen Republicans to discuss complaints the company is trying to silence conservative voices.
“Google has a lot of questions to answer about reports of bias in its search results, violations of user privacy, anticompetitive behavior, and business dealings with repressive regimes like China,” Mr. McCarthy said in a statement.
The Friday meeting will cap a week of tech-related sessions in Washington in which Google — in the cross hairs of Silicon Valley’s conservative critics since late summer — has played a starring role.
At a gathering of the heads of the Justice Department and a dozen state attorneys general on Tuesday, Google was mentioned more than any other company when it came to concerns about antitrust enforcement and privacy practices, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
At a Senate hearing discussing online privacy on Wednesday, Google’s chief privacy officer, Keith Enright, received the toughest and broadest array of questions from lawmakers who wanted to know about the company’s consideration of introducing search services in China. Google says it is not close to starting such a service.
In a letter to the Senate committee holding the hearing, a former employee, Jack Poulson, said Google’s building a search engine that would be acceptable to the government of China was a “catastrophic failure of the internal privacy review process.” He said this was part of a “broad pattern of unaccountable decision making.”
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, also questioned Mr. Enright about claims of bias against conservatives in search results. “I can tell you that millions of Texans believe Google is actively censoring the speech of conservatives,” Mr. Cruz said.
On Thursday, Harmeet Dhillon, a lawyer and Republican Party official, is set to testify in the House about anti-conservative bias in tech. Ms. Dhillon represents several former employees in a lawsuit filed last year against Google that claims the company discriminated against them based on their political beliefs.
Google’s week in Washington comes three weeks after executives from Twitter and Facebook testified in a Senate hearing dedicated to Russian disinformation on social media. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, also spoke at a House hearing about claims of anti-conservative bias at Twitter.
Google executives did not attend the Senate hearing, though they were invited. The company offered to send Kent Walker, a senior vice president for global affairs who is also the company’s top lawyer. But urged on by Facebook officials, according to two people familiar with the matter, senators insisted on a more powerful executive. Google refused.
It was the “worst business decision of 2018,” said Scott Galloway, a founder of the business research firm Gartner L2 and a professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of Business. “It feels like the tide has turned substantially,” Mr. Galloway said. “They’ve sort of poked the bear.”
A Google spokeswoman said officials from the company had testified before Congress 22 times since 2008. “We’re happy to continue explaining our products and practices,” Becca Rutkoff, the Google spokeswoman, said in a statement.
For longtime Google critics and even some of its Silicon Valley peers, it is surprising that Google has avoided the spotlight for so long.
It has 90 percent of the global search market — a share so high that it has for years had to sidestep concerns that it is a dominant monopoly that needs to be regulated. Competitors have long claimed that Google is using its search dominance to advantage its own services and should be controlled by antitrust laws.
The Google-owned YouTube video service is also dominant, and has for several years faced questions about videos that show terrorist violence and disinformation, similar to issues that Facebook and Twitter have had to address in congressional hearings.
And Google has faced several claims of bias. A video of a staff meeting held shortly after Donald J. Trump was elected president, leaked two weeks ago, showed several senior Google executives, including Mr. Pichai, expressing their alarm.
Emails leaked last week showed lower-level Google employees discussing whether they could alter search results to counter President Trump’s travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim countries. Google is adamant that no one in a position to make such a change seriously considered it.
Employees are bracing for more embarrassing leaks. The company has long encouraged workers to speak their minds on internal message boards. That includes politics.
The conservative pressure on Google started to escalate in late summer. On Aug. 28, Mr. Trump, in a series of tweets, attacked Google for what he claimed was an effort to suppress conservative media that was favorable to his administration.
The next day, the president posted a video that seemed to show that Google did not promote his State of the Union address on its home page as it had in the past for President Obama. He used the hashtag #StopTheBias. The video was incorrect. Google said that it didn’t promote Mr. Obama’s inaugural address, a joint statement to Congress but not technically a State of the Union address, in 2009 either.
Shortly after, other Republicans were calling for regulations and greater scrutiny. Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, called for antitrust regulators to reopen an investigation into Google.
Some Google officials wonder if competitors are organizing a campaign to prompt regulatory scrutiny.
At the Senate hearing Google did not attend, lawmakers mentioned a report that had come out a day before from the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit watchdog group that often publishes research critical of Google. The group posed as Russian trolls to buy what it called politically divisive ads on Google’s systems, which failed to stop them.
Google called the report “a stunt” by its rivals and blamed the software maker Oracle for its release. Ken Glueck, a senior vice president at Oracle, said it had made a one-time financial contribution in 2016 to the Campaign for Accountability but denied that the company had any involvement in the report.
Google has many business opponents in Washington, including telecommunication giants like AT&T and Comcast. Oracle and News Corp. have put significant resources into funding third-party coalitions and public relations firms to place ads and to lobby lawmakers on Google’s dominance in search and on allegations it uses its power to unfairly harm publishers and other tech rivals.
But few companies have been as tenacious as Yelp, a midsize internet outfit with far fewer resources. It has waged a seven-year battle to get regulatory agencies around the world to investigate Google. Until recently, its calls have been largely ignored in the United States. The company claims Google prioritized its own reviews over others, making it much harder for competing reviews sites like Yelp to be discovered.
Early in September, a White House official received an email with an attachment from Luther Lowe, the senior vice president for policy for Yelp.
“Check out the attachment,” Mr. Lowe wrote in an email. “Tell me what you think.”
The attachment was a document called, “Executive Draft Order to Protect American Competition and Small Businesses From Bias in Online Platforms.” It was a draft presidential order instructing antitrust officials to recommend ways to protect competition and clamp down on content bias on internet search and social media sites.
Mr. Lowe said in an email that he did not know the origins of the document and that it had been forwarded to him.
Daisuke Wakabayashi and Cecelia Kang, NYTIMES 9/17/18
SAN FRANCISCO — Apple, Facebook and Google’s YouTube mostly barred Alex Jones, the right-wing provocateur and creator of the conspiracy theorist website Infowars, last month for propagating hate speech. Twitter did not.
On Thursday, though, Twitter said it would permanently suspend Mr. Jones’s account, as well as the account for Infowars. The social media company said Mr. Jones had posted messages within the previous 24 hours that violated its policies, which prohibit direct threats of violence and some forms of hate speech but allow deception or misinformation.
“Today, we permanently suspended @realalexjones and @infowars from Twitter and Periscope,” the company posted on its Safety account. “We took this action based on new reports of Tweets and videos posted yesterday that violate our abusive behavior policy, in addition to the accounts’ past violations.” (NY Times, 9/7/18)
Forget about your “hanging chads,” fake news and dirty tricks. Get some savvy technology tools to load onto your campaign bandwagon. And, of course, the right people to make it all work. Democrats obviously have the greater need.
“Democrats are often thought to be tech savvy, because the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 were celebrated for their online touch and because much of Silicon Valley backs the party’s candidates. In fact, . . . Democrats in congressional and state-level races have been out-matched by their Republican rivals, who benefitted from the heavy tech investments during the Obama years and their enthusiastic embrace of targeted ads on platforms like Facebook and Google.
People don’t understand how not far along we are as a party (Democratic). Obama was really good at tech, but it never trickled down to a Senate race, let alone the state-level stuff. (NY Times, 7/14/18).”
Timing is everything as the old saying goes. Trump may have been the recipient of some good timing in terms of his world travels next week when he visits with his good buddy Vladimir Putin.
“For Twitter, the reform comes at a critical moment. Though it is a smaller company with far fewer users than Facebook or Google, Twitter has been sharply criticized for allowing abuse and hate speech to flourish on its platform. And along with other social networks, Twitter was a critical tool for Russian influence during the 2016 election, when tens of thousands of accounts were used to spread propaganda and disinformation. Those troubles dampened Twitter’s prospects for acquisition by a bigger firm, and the company, which went public in 2013, did not turn a profit until the final quarter of last year.”
I wonder how many followers Trump will lose? Maybe his Russian followers will still find a way to “influence” him, and increase his number of (fake?) followers. He will be visiting with them next week?
“Your available social time is limited, and you can either spend it face to face or on the Internet. If it is spent with people who are ‘remote,’ whether geographically or just because they’re represented digitally, you don’t have time to invest in new relationships where you are.” As with many millennials, talking on the phone is not a big part of social interaction and is now reserved for the rarest of occasions.
“If a high school friend posts frequently about her life, it’s almost like celebrity gossip, or it’s akin to watching a reality show about her. Our brains get confused about whether we know celebrities; if we see someone a lot, our brain thinks we know them.” There are physiological benefits to face-to-face encounters, however, that do not accrue to digital interactions or the phone. “Your blood pressure goes down, you have synchrony, you mimic your friend’s posture posture unconsciously.”
Maybe we call them “cyber friends.”
I (Cecilia Kang) feel like everyone is hunched over their phones in Washington even more than other places. This is a news-obsessed town that is texting and e-mailing at all hours. There seems to be a bit of a generational divide on the use of communications apps. Younger staffers on Capitol Hill often use encrypted apps and direct messages on Twitter. But even some of my older sources (my peers, really) can sometimes text me at all hours. It feels totally appropriate to call, text or Signal late at night or on weekends. Many an interview is done with children heard in the background at a park.
The whole attitude toward the tech industry has changed in Washington, with every growing calls for privacy regulation and antitrust enforcement of giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The biggest stories coming up will be the lawsuits to restore net neutrality, which should begin late this summer. The Trump administration and the F.C.C. have focused on the race for the 5G networks and have acted to thwart competition from China, citing national security concerns. And privacy is the big wild card. Even if stricter privacy rules aren’t introduced in the United States, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation set to take effect next month will most likely spill over in some way into American policy.
Faster is better?
The recent rankings of Educational Technology firms’ market performance are surprising and curious to me. I had always assumed that Apple had the lead in America’s classrooms, but not so. Here is the latest as reported in this week’s NY Times. “In a bid to take back some of the education market from Google, Apple on Tuesday plans to introduce new hardware and software for schools and students. But Apple has fallen to third place, behind Google and Microsoft, in the battle to own America’s classroom. So the new items may not move the needle much.”
Speaking of Microsoft, a delegation of Saudi Arabian officials including the country’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, will be meeting with Bill Gates some time this week. I guess they are still looking for that “secret sauce” that will revolutionize Saudi education through a critical combination of hardware and software that will make them the envy of school systems around the world. But I am still wondering what they will do to involve their classroom teachers as part of this revolutionary mission? Maybe I should just stop worrying so much. Trump will obviously do whatever he can do to help them, for whatever reasons?
Educational Technology is certainly changing our world in how we educate our younger generations, but all these new tools are only as effective as the teachers who use them, and have some part in choosing them.
P.S. A short spring time break for me this weekend. Enjoy your holidays. I will return on Monday, April 2.
Google recently announced that it will be offering online tools and funding for journalists ($300 million over the next three years). It will be known as the Google News Initiative. I am not sure that I completely understand how all of this is going to work, but hey, who really reads newspapers anymore? Maybe Google can bring them all back, if that’s really the goal? Or perhaps we all should pledge to read more news in “reliable” print format everyday, but I think it may be too late. Some experts have already proposed that young minds are already “flickering” because of all the technology tools surrounding them. But let’s give Google its due and highlight a couple of their efforts.
As part of its Initiative, Google is creating a Disinfo Lab in partnership with the Harvard Kennedy School’s First Draft, which will attempt to identify false news during breaking news situations. Google and YouTube, the video site owned by Google’s parent company, have been criticized for allowing conspiracy theories and unreliable partisan sources to filter to the top of their search results for breaking news and for having failed to stop the spread of false news during the 2016 presidential election (have a look at my blog post on Wednesday about YouTube and Wikipedia joining forces, sort of). In addition, Google.org, Google’s nonprofit arm, also announced a $10 million media literacy project to help America’a teenagers learn skills to identify fake news (maybe it will also help parents!).
So watch out kids! Your days will be getting busier and busier. No time for all those “extracurricular” activities that might be the most “real” part of your day.
Whether one party wants the friendship or not! This seems to be a very confusing turn of events. It also appears to be about the “little people” helping a Goliath of the tech world, but why? It must be the money, but no one seems to know how much and for how long? Here’s what has been reported to date.
The plan was presented as just one of many ways that YouTube, which is owned by Google, would address mounting concerns about its content. But it highlighted a jarring dynamic: Here was Google, a company with revenues in excess of $100 billion last year, calling on a volunteer-built, donation-funded nonprofit organization to help it solve a crisis. The main problem with YouTube’s presumptuous announcement is being criticized by some because Wikipedia is not necessarily geared toward breaking news – and conspiracy theories tend to move at lightning speed during times of crisis.
Is this all simply a case of “breaking news” being scrutinized by some form of journalistic review. Or perhaps it just doesn’t matter any more on the age of Trump.
The new high-tech approach follows the growing use of big data to track and address players’ health and prevent injury in professional sports. Now in the world of college basketball, your team’s mascot may be the most critical piece of data in predicting whether they can pull an upset victory in the NCAA tournament. As promoted by Google Cloud services: “Decades of NCAA data tells us that teams with feline mascots have caused the most tournament upsets. Meow! The NCAA is using Google Cloud to turn data into insights – just like this one – and imagine what it could do for your business.”
As posted in Wednesday’s blog: “Until recently, Major League Baseball had used such information technology to evaluate players, not necessarily to keep them fit. The Mets now hope not only to right the ship but to eventually become one of the more advanced teams in analyzing and improving players’ health.”
I really have no idea what the Cloud can actually do for your business or sport, and I am not “pussy-footing” around.🐈
Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) that is. A recent Gallup survey revealed that the vast majority of Americans expect A.I. to lead to joblessness in the coming decade, but few see it as coming to their own position. “Whether they know it or not, A.I. has moved into a big percent of Americans’ lives in one way or another already (Newport, Northeastern University, 2018).”
“Personal assistants” like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa, as well as navigational apps, such as Google Maps, Waze and Apple Maps are used most widely among younger and more educated Americans. More than 90 percent of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree or between the ages of 18 and 35 used navigation apps, for example. Gallup’s report reflects only some of the findings of a large survey of nearly 3,300 Americans conducted in September an October of last year. The other findings, released in January, show that more than three in four Americans believe that A.I. will fundamentally change how the public lives and works in the coming decade.
About the same share expect A.I. to destroy more jobs than it creates, though only about one in four were worried about losing their own job?
A former tech executive will be making a bid for the U.S. presidency. He will be focusing on the negative consequences of automation which he describes as the robot apocalypse. His name is Andrew Yang.
He is a well-connected New York businessman who is mounting a long-shot bid for the White House. Mr Yang, who started the nonprofit organization Venture for America, believes that automation and advanced artificial intelligence will soon make millions of jobs obsolete – yours, mine, those of our accountants and radiologists and grocery store cashiers. He says America needs take radical steps to prevent Great Depression-level unemployment and a total societal meltdown, including handing out trillions of dollars in cash.
“There’s no time to mess around with think-tank papers and super PACs, because the clock is ticking.”
So what do technology usage and lizards have to do with your brain? Maybe more than you think? Roger McNamee with the Center for Humane Technology has put it his way: “Facebook appeals to your lizard brain – primarily fear and anger. And with smartphones, they’ve got you every waking moment.” He said the people who made these products could stop them before they did more harm. He sees his association with the Center for Humane Technology as an opportunity for him to correct a wrong.
Sort of reminds me of Dr. Frankenstein who tried to kill the monster he created, but this is not really like a horror novel/movie. Or is it? Is too much technology addicting our children (and adults?) to habits that are “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” The Center for Humane Technology, along with the nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media, is also planning an anti-tech addiction lobbying effort and an ad campaign at 55,000 public schools in the United States. It is titled “The Truth About Tech.”
Can we stand the truth? I hope so.
Maybe a better title for this post would be: “Technology Companies are Now Biggest Spenders in Lobbying Congress.” It just all seems to make sense when you consider how wealthy all these companies have become, i.e., Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, etc. “These are companies that are touching so many parts of the economy . . . So it’s inevitable that they are going to engage in a host of political and policy issues (Washington Post, 1/24/18).”
Amazon, for example, spent nearly $13 million in lobbying last year, a 16 percent increase from 2016. The tech industry’s ballooning lobbying budgets may also be an indication that the companies will fight hard to protect the data they collect on Americans. Some experts now worry that the government will struggle to pass new and meaningful consumer protection laws. Others say that the increase in lobbying simply coincides with the tech sector’s rapid growth and larger role in society. Any way you look at it, the tech industry is now the biggest lobbying machine in Washington.
I just worry about whose lobbying for the technology consumers?
I will be taking a “winter break” next week. Back on Monday, February 5th