Google chief Sundar Pichai in the hot seat as he makes his Capitol Hill debut

A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. ...

Posted: Dec 11, 2018 3:27 PM
Updated: Dec 11, 2018 3:27 PM

A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Google CEO's time to testify

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Sundar Pichai

Google's power is mind boggling. Yet it doesn't cross peoples' minds as often as, let's say, Facebook's power does. Google has been relatively unscathed by the Big Tech scandals of 2018. But that could change at any time. And it might on Tuesday.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai is set to testify on Capitol Hill for the very first time. He has briefed lawmakers before, but he's never testified publicly. He's sitting down with the House Judiciary Committee for several hours of hearings that will begin at 10 a.m. ET.

Pichai is, as the Washington Post's Tony Romm writes, a soft-spoken "political neophyte" who's been avoiding the spotlight for the past year. So Tuesday "is shaping up to be a major test of Pichai's skills in managing the company's reputation at a time when several of Silicon Valley's biggest names are in crisis — and when many of Google's employees are in revolt." Read Romm's preview...

The YouTube problem

On the eve of the hearing, the Post also dropped a big story about Google's YouTube unit and its problems with hateful, conspiracy-laden videos. YouTube is polluted by this poison.

Key paragraph: "The platform routinely serves videos espousing neo-Nazi propaganda, phony reports portraying dark-skinned people as violent savages and conspiracy theories claiming that large numbers of leading politicians and celebrities molested children. Critics say that even though YouTube removes millions of videos on average each month, it is slow to identify troubling content and, when it does, is too permissive in what it allows to remain."

→ Ouch: "Even on the House of Representatives YouTube channel that is due to broadcast the hearing, viewers on Monday could see several videos peddling conspiracy theories recommended by the site's algorithm," the Post notes...

→ Sen. Richard Blumenthal is quoted: "YouTube is repeatedly used by malign actors, and individuals or groups, promoting very dangerous, disruptive narratives..."

→ Flashback to CNN's reporting earlier this year: "YouTube ran ads from hundreds of brands on extremist channels..."

Possibly on the House agenda...

-- Google's controversial plans for a censored search engine in China. Recode's Shirin Ghaffary has an explainer here...

-- Monday's admission that a Google+ bug "revealed millions of customers' private information to software developers" last month. CNN's Kaya Yurieff has all the details here...

-- A variety of other questions about data privacy...

-- Allegations, mostly from the right, that Google's actions and algorithms carry political bias...

What Darcy is expecting

Oliver Darcy will be in the hearing room for us. Here's what he's anticipating: "Frankly, I don't expect this hearing to be much different than the other hearings this committee has held with other tech CEOs. I expect the Republican members will continue to cite fringe right-wing outlets to claim bias against conservatives, and I'm not sure there is anything Google's CEO can do to change their mind."

What I'm expecting

Let me just add one bit to what Darcy said: I'm expecting some painfully tech-illiterate lawmakers. Hopefully they'll surprise us all with sharp questions and followups!

Read more of Monday's "Reliable Sources" newsletter... And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox...


-- This is one of the best lists of the year! Bloomberg's Jealousy List is out... Full of stories the editors and reporters wish THEY'D thought to write... (Bloomberg)

-- Speaking of jealousy, the NYT dropped a huge new story about how apps scrape up precise location data from our phones, mostly in secret... (NYT)

-- Katie Pellico flagged this: A helpful partner to the story: How to stop apps from tracking your location... (NYT)

-- Here's The Atlantic cover story about "the real roots of American rage..." (The Atlantic)

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