Data Sheet—What Google CEO Sundar Pichai Should Really Tell Congress
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Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, testifies Tuesday at the House Judiciary Committee’s laughably long-titled hearing on “Transparency & Accountability: Examining Google and its Data Collection, Use, and Filtering Practices.”
In his admirably short prepared testimony, submitted ahead of time to the committee, Pichai addresses almost none of the supposed topics open for conversation. That’s because he knows full well that 1) the people’s representatives wouldn’t know a filtering practice on the Internet from a water-filtration pump at a sewage plant; and 2) his inquisitors don’t plan to stick to the topics at hand and instead plan to paint Google as a biased, leftish, wannabe China-coddling monopolist. So instead he reminded the committee that Google’s founders hailed from Michigan (true) and Maryland (not really), that Google is the quintessentially American company, that it takes privacy seriously and supports federal privacy legislation, and that he’s proud to lead the company “without political bias.”
The conversation may or may not be interesting, depending on whether or not Congressional staffers did their homework and convinced their bosses to pay attention. Here are three things Pichai won’t say, but that it would damn fun to hear come out of his mouth:
First, I’d like to address the Republican members of the committee who believe Google is biased. Here you’re partly right and partly wrong. Our egregiously overpaid leadership and highly pedigreed, entitled, and coddled rank-and-fileship absolutely are creatures of the left. We believe in an open exchange of ideas—so long as the exchanges are inside our politically correct tent. What you’ve got wrong is that there’s bias in our search algorithm. You see, we are far more interested in making money than scoring political points. We understand that first we have to make money; then we can give it to Democratic political candidates. But hey, it’s a free country.
Second, you all may be wondering why we’re playing footsie with the Chinese even as we are turning up our noses at the U.S. defense and intelligence communities. Well, for starters, see No. 1 above. China is ascendant; the U.S., not so much. And if I may be frank with you, we missed a giant opportunity when we fled China on principle a few years ago. We haven’t figured everything out yet, but we’re trying. And give us a break: Would you ignore a fast-growing market with 1.4 billion consumers?
Third, if you feel compelled to restrict what we can do with the data we collect, we’ll grudgingly help you write the regulations—especially if the alternative is EU-style fines and sanctions. But don’t come crying to us when Google Maps can’t get you out of a traffic jam, when you have to click like eight or nine times to get a sports score, and when your Gmail inbox starts to look like Outlook. The list goes on. Trust me.
And thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk to you today.
God bless America.
Banished from my sight. A second major glitch that could have leaked user data has prompted Google to terminate its failed Google+ social network even sooner than expected. The network's consumer offering will close in April 2019, four months earlier than previously announced.
Shots fired. Adventure camera maker GoPro is embarking on a new adventure, shifting manufacturing of most products for U.S. customers from China to the United States to avoid becoming a victim of the ongoing trade war. “Today’s geopolitical business environment requires agility,” CFO Brian McGee said. “We’re proactively addressing tariff concerns.”
Heading for the exits. After asking for volunteers for early retirement, Verizon says about 10,000 employees, or 7% of its workforce, have chosen to accept a buyout package. Departing employees could get up to 60 weeks of salary, bonus, and benefits under the offer.
Outside the box. With all the troubles stirring around Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly met with Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith to seek advice. Smith told Zuck he was happy at Microsoft and did not intend to leave, tech newsletter The Information reported.
No medals for you. Don't expect to see video gamers mashing their controllers at the Olympics any time soon. The International Olympic Committee met over the weekend and decided that it was "premature" to discuss adding esports to the event. And how would they decide whether StarCraft belonged in the winter or summer games, anyway?
Counterpunch. As mobile hardware giants Apple and Qualcomm do battle in courtrooms across the globe, Qualcomm notched a minor victory in China. A Chinese court found several iPhone models violated patents related to resizing photos and navigating apps. Apple said it would appeal and that all iPhone models remained for sale in China.
Shopping sites. After opening 18 physical bookstores, Amazon may be curbing some of its ambitions. The company has failed to pursue plans to open stores in locations in Georgia, Colorado, and Idaho, GeekWire reports. Amazon says its remains "excited about all of our stores" and continues to look for new locations.
ON THE MOVE
(Data Sheet is experimenting with a new weekly section covering executive moves of interest in the tech industry. Please let us know if you find it useful.)
Salesforce appointed Paula Goldman as its first first Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer. She had been vice president and global lead of the tech and society solutions lab at philanthropic investment firm the Omidyar Network...Apple hired Jason Oberfest, the former CEO of Mango Health, which makes a medication tracking app, to work on its health efforts...Instagram product manager Vishal Shah was promoted to head of product for the entire company, the same job Adam Mosseri held before he was promoted to head the company in October...Neiman Marcus hired Boston Consulting Group partner Katie Mullen for the newly created position of chief transformation officer.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Intel has been facing increasing competition in the lucrative market for microprocessors that run servers. The latest threat comes from cloud computing giant Amazon, which said last month that it was designing its own custom chips for some of its servers, following in Google's footsteps. Cade Metz at the New York Times takes a deeper dive into the implications of Amazon's move, which doesn't yet encompass designing chips for all its needs. But expect the company to continue expanding its efforts:
Building these chips requires rare expertise and hundreds of millions of dollars in capital. It is a big step up in complexity from building chips tailored to certain tasks. “The belief was that you needed some magic to build a processor, particularly a server processor,” said Andrew Feldman, the chief executive of the chip start-up Cerebras and a former executive at the chip maker AMD. “You had to be Intel or AMD—and that was about it.”
Amazon executives believe the chip, which was designed to be more energy efficient, will help reduce the cost of electrical power in its data centers. It said it was offering a cloud-computing service that would allow business customers to use its new chip. The cost of the service could be 45 percent lower than other options. And when Amazon buys chips from other companies, a homegrown option gives it even more sway over prices. “They can now say to Intel, ‘We will just move the workloads to other chips,’” Mr. Feldman said.
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BEFORE YOU GO
Evelyn Berezin, developer of the first true word processing machine, died on Saturday at the age of 93. Berezin's company, Redactron, sold about 10,000 of the "Data Secretary" machines until it was sold to Burroughs in 1976.