“Why does Google steal content from honest businesses?”
“It’s Google’s business model that is the problem.”
“Any business that wants to be found on the Web must pay Google a tax.”
“Maybe it’s that your company is aligned with the Chinese Communist Party’s corporate espionage policies where the strategy is to steal whatever can’t be produced domestically.”
“Google buys up companies for the purpose of surveilling Americans, and because of Google’s dominance users have no choice but to surrender.”
Even Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), normally known for off-point partisan outbursts, joined in, noting that Google pulled out of an artificial-intelligence project with the U.S. military. “Peter Thiel,” Gaetz said of the PayPal co-founder, “said that Google’s activities with China are treasonous. He accused you of treason. Why would an American company with American values so directly aid the Chinese military but have ethical concerns about working alongside the U.S. military?”
Pichai responded with evasions.
“Uh, Congressman, without knowing the specifics, it’s, uh, you know, I’m not fully clear of the context.”
“Uh, Congressman, not familiar with the specifics of that particular issue, but happy to, uh, follow up more once I understand it better.”
“Uh, Congressman, uh, I want to be able to address the important, uh, concerns you raised. First of all, we are proud to support the U.S. government.”
That’s a relief.
The lawmakers, predictably, had technological challenges. The video streams of the corporate titans were out of sync with the audio, and the chairman had to call a 10-minute recess to “fix a technical feed.” Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) confused Twitter with Facebook, and Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) seemed to need I.T. help. (“My parents who have a Gmail account haven’t been getting my campaign emails,” he told Pichai.)
But the lawmakers had done their homework; a year-long investigation had found the goods on all of the companies. Bezos fielded accusations about bullying third-party sellers, selling counterfeit goods and using anticompetitive practices to drive competitors out of business. (Bezos, who also owns The Post, handled them all with grace and aplomb. Also, he was handsome, charming and well-dressed.) Zuckerberg was accused of violating antitrust law in buying Instagram and of spreading disinformation and destroying journalism. Cook was accused of abusive practices with Apple’s App Store.
But Google’s Pichai got the worst of it, particularly in the early part of the 5½ hour hearing, and handled it weakly. He kept looking down toward a notebook while giving his opening statement (did Google not have the technology to put his text on the screen?), and struggled under the fierce questioning.
Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), the antitrust subcommittee chairman, laid out the panel’s findings. “Numerous online businesses told us that Google steals their content and privileges its own sites in ways that profit Google but crush everyone else,” he said. The “catastrophic” choice given to businesses such as Yelp, he said, is “let us steal your content or effectively disappear from the Web.” Said Cicilline: “As Google became the gateway to the Internet, it used its surveillance to identify competitive threats and crushed them.”
There was rare bipartisan accord in hostility toward Google.
“Do you think Google could get away with following China’s corporate espionage playbook if you didn’t have a monopolistic advantage?” asked Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.).
Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) informed Pichai that “a lot of Americans have lost faith in Google.”
And Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) noted that, after Google promised Congress it wouldn’t merge users’ private date when it bought the advertising company Double Click, “Google went ahead and merged this data anyway, effectively destroying anonymity on the Internet.”
Pichai invariably replied with . . . not much.
“We approach our work with a deep sense of responsibility.”
“We deeply care about the privacy of our users.”
“We are in full compliance to the extent of my knowledge.”
“We are deeply committed to journalism.”
Do you believe him? Google “gullibility jokes.”
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