It was a grandiose occasion at the Rayburn Building to welcome the biggest data collectors in America’s history to share some insightful information on consumer data use. Not sure if Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO arrived by autonomous driving vehicle or plane, but the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee was ready to hear what Google has been doing with consumers’ data. This was the moment many had been awaiting since the 2016 Presidential Election. In fact, it’s been so much time; an alleged Chinese search engine was under way, the secrecy of Google+ breach, YouTube service interruptions and content rankings, along with algorithms, no restrictions on child pornography, and the robots Ad purchasing power ability. As you can see it’s a long list of items in which the hearing could possibly address a few. Therefore, it primarily focused on “Transparency & Accountability: Examining Google and its Data Collection Use and Filtering Practices.”
Despite Pichai joining Google 15 years ago, it appears from the December 11th hearing he is disconnected from his companies day-to-day operations, standards and practices. This leaves many to question whether Google is more of a “baby” start-up company or the largest private company with access to all the worlds data with minimal security or privacy regulations. Google is not the government and is in need of guidance from them. The questions ranged from:
- “Who at Google makes judgment calls on whether to filter or block objectionable content?” – Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va), opening remarks
- “Mr Pichai is it true, the Android operating systems sends Google information every 3 minutes detailing the exact location of a smart phone?” – Committee member
- How advertising is handled at Google
- “What legal obligations is the company under to disclose such data exposure that doesn’t involve financial information, [but] still involve other personal information?”
Mr. Pichai reviewed his notes but didn’t have a good answer for the first question. “We go to great lengths to protect the privacy. Android is a powerful platform, and it depends on the applications users choose to use,” replied Mr. Pichai to smart phone data collection. It was very timely to learn that advertising rates can vary. However no bias is associated with the advertisers as many get ready for the 2020 Elections. Mr. Pichai says “it is done in a non-partisan way.” “It depends on the situation and all requirements,” replied Mr. Pichai to the legal obligations to disclose data exposure.
The company shares and collaborates a lot with law enforcement. Moreover, Google CEO said during the hearing “we do not sell users’ data as a company,” and they “always think there is more to do.” As the company grows more mature in operating standards, privacy practices, and tracking users every move, it is likely that Google could take into consideration Congressman Steve Cohen’s question: “Have you considered having an online school that people could go to, login and ask questions? Something easy to talk to somebody and ask how do I do this or that?” Google is constantly looking for better ways, and one option is online tutorials and is happy to present feedback to the Committee on this lesson plan.
During the hearing, Pichai didn’t appear to know the answers to the questions and additional notes were needed. When asked an entry level question, “Are you familiar with the General Data Protection Regulations by the European Union?” Mr. Pichai stated, “I am very familiar.” He acknowledged that the United States does not have a comprehensive legislation. Congressman Ted Poe (R-Tx) followed up that preschool graduate question with , “Are you familiar with House Resolution 1039?” Mr. Pichai further displayed his lack of knowledge by not knowing that HR 1039 was introduced by the Congressman that would adopt some of the European practices in American and give consumers the right to privacy. A copy of which will be provided to him courtesy of the Congressman.
Google certainly has a few more weeks before the New Year to focus on growth and development regarding its operating standards. That will be coupled with the security and privacy of users’ data before a formula from the government arrives. Hopefully, at the next hearing Mr. Pichai will be able to speak into the mic and answer more questions from the Committee!