Google's Empty Chair Will End Up Haunting Company

Photo Credit: Jose Luis Magana/AP/Shutterstock
September 6, 2018
Updated 7mo ago

By Conor White

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg may have been grilled by Congress this week, but it was the company that ditched the hearings altogether that emerged as the loser.

"If any company came out looking bad yesterday, it was probably Google," tech and social media expert Lance Ulanoff said Thursday in an interview on Cheddar.

Lawmakers wanted Google's CEO Sundar Pichai or Larry Page, head of parent company Alphabet, to testify, but only chief lawyer Kent Walker was offered, a concession that Congress ultimately rejected.

"It makes Google look like they don't care, or they're afraid," CNET News executive editor Ian Sherr told Cheddar Thursday. "And what happens is that it's going to cause Congress ー if they're really bothered, they're going to compel Google to come to The Hill."

"I certainly got the sense that there is a boiling kind of frustration at Google already on The Hill, and this did not help at all," he added.

As Wednesday's hearings unfolded, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an official review of social media companies, probing whether Twitter and Facebook are operating in good faith. The investigation follows President Trump's claims in July that Twitter was "shadow banning" conservatives by deliberately limiting the exposure of their posts.

Tech stocks fell in U.S. trading after Sessions's announcement and continued their slide on Thursday

"That kind of action could harm [Twitter or Facebook]," Ulanoff said. "If the Justice Department comes back and says 'this is happening' or they just pressure the company, that's going to hurt Twitter and could change Facebook, and that's got to be the fear."

As for Wednesday's hearings, both Sherr and Ulanoff agreed they were necessary fact-finding missions, pointing out that it can be exceedingly difficult to get any information out of companies as secretive as theirs.

"Silicon Valley's very opaque," Sherr said. "They don't share how the algorithms work, they don't share how the computer programs are written, they don't even share their policies very well."

The execs answered questions on troll farms, foreign actors, and identifying and eliminating fake news. Both faced the Senate, while Dorsey addressed the House alone in a separate hearing.

Still, Ulanoff thinks the social media giants are on the right track ー and the government may even learn something through the process.

"I came away thinking maybe these tech companies are doing more than the government to protect the voting process in the midterm elections." he said.

For full interview click here.