Google skipping out on Congress means public missed important answers

By: Alfred Ng, CNET, September 6, 2018

The empty chair for Google at a hearing before Congress came with a series of unanswered questions.

On Wednesday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about social media companies and foreign influence in the US. Google, however, declined to send its CEO.

The committee had invited Larry Page, CEO of Google parent Alphabet, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. But the search giant offered Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs. That wasn’t enough for Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina and chair of the committee. Burr rejected the offer, explicitly requesting someone at the highest executive level.

Google’s absence means a major puzzle piece was missing from the hearing. The company has dealt with its fair share of election security issues, including a recent campaign by the Iranian government that included the creation of channels on Google-owned YouTube to spread propaganda.

Foreign propaganda from Russia and Iran spreading on Google’s platform is also a concern for lawmakers. In July, Google rolled out stricter policies for political ads. Yet watchdog group Campaign for Accountability found it could still buy ads with a Google AdWords account it set up using the name and details of a notorious Russian propaganda group — ads it paid for with rubles.

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