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Google CEO Sundar Pichai faces criticism for refusing to testify in Senate committee

Twitter Inc. CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg are said to be planning to testify at the Sept. 5 Senate committee hearing on social media and Russian meddling.

business Updated: Aug 29, 2018 13:11 IST
Steven T. Dennis
Steven T. Dennis
Bloomberg
File photo of Sundar Pichai who has been named CEO of Google. ()(AP File Photo)

Google’s Sundar Pichai is facing bipartisan criticism for refusing to testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing next week, but the panel’s chairman signalled he’s unlikely to issue a subpoena to force the chief executive officer to appear.

“I don’t normally subpoena people to be part of the solution,” Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina said Tuesday when asked if he’s considering such a step. “Google chooses not to participate and being part of the solution. That’s a decision they made.”

Twitter Inc. CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg are said to be planning to testify at the Sept. 5 Senate committee hearing on social media and Russian meddling.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google previously announced it would send Kent Walker, its senior vice president for global affairs. The company said Tuesday that Walker, who’s overseeing its efforts to tackle foreign interference, will be in Washington and available to meet with lawmakers on the day of the hearing.

But Burr -- who had asked Pichai to testify -- had said Thursday, Aug. 23, that Walker wasn’t sufficiently high up in the company, according to a panel spokeswoman. The senator said it’s up to Google whether to send someone acceptable to appear before the committee, which is investigating Russian interference in U.S. elections and its manipulation of social media.

Open chair

“The chair will be there, the nameplate will be there,” Burr said. “If they want us to fill in a name, I will.”

Lawmakers’ frustration with Google comes as President Donald Trump opened criticism of the dominant internet search provider on another front. He asserted in a tweet on Tuesday that Google promotes anti-Trump search results and suppresses pro-Trump news. The company responded that “search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology.”

Donald J. Trump tweeted: Google search results for “Trump News” shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out...

Trump told reporters later Tuesday that Google, Facebook and Twitter had “better be careful” because they “are treading on very, very troubled territory” by favoring liberal viewpoints.

Burr was joined by Intelligence Committee members of both parties in criticizing Pichai’s plans to be a no-show next week. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the Intelligence panel’s top Democrat, said Google is making a “great mistake” by offering to send Walker and not a higher-level official.

“That’s not the level that we should have,” he said.

Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, said Google and the other companies should all send their CEOs.

“This is the United States Senate, this is an important issue, and we deserve to hear from the decision-makers, not the people who carry out the decisions,” King said.

The panel previously held a hearing with lawyers for Facebook, Twitter and Google. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified at House and Senate committee hearings in April though not before the Senate Intelligence panel.

First Published: Aug 29, 2018 13:11 IST