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Pichai Speaks, May Vote, China Trade: CEO Daily for December 12, 2018

Good morning.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified before Congress for three and a half hours yesterday — after refusing to testify earlier this year — and I doubt he enjoyed the experience. Republicans trashed him for skewing search results against them, while Democrats defended his first amendment right to skew search results if he wanted to. Neither line of commentary should have been comforting.

Rep. Steven King also attacked him for some stuff that appeared on his granddaughter’s iPhone. Pichai responded: “Congressman, iPhone is made by a different company.”

Pichai also seemed to back away further from reports that Google was putting search engine servers in China, where they would be subject to government censorship.

“Right now, we have no plans to launch search in China,” he said.

And he avoided having to talk about what I believe is one of the company’s most serious misdeeds: bowing to employee pressure to stop working with the government on a project using AI to analyze drone video.

The hearing illustrated once again the underlying reality of congressional engagement with big tech companies. Political dissatisfaction with Big Tech Is clearly rising; but Congress’s ability to do anything coherent to address it remains in the dumps.

More news below.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray
alan.murray@meredith.com

Top News

Confidence Vote

British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a vote of confidence by her own party later today. If she survives the vote, her party cannot challenge her again for one year. If not, she would not be eligible for the subsequent leadership race. “I will contest that vote with everything I have got,” she said in a statement and warned that a new prime minister might have to delay or stop Brexit. BBC.

Huawei Leverage

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would consider intervening in the case against Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou over violating Iran sanctions if it helped his bigger trade deal negotiations with China. Wanzhou won bail in a Vancouver court Tuesday, subject to limited travel and curfew, while China arrested a former Canadian diplomat, stoking fears of tit for tat arrests. Reuters

Tariff De-escalation

China’s top trade negotiator told U.S. officials that China would lower auto tariffs and buy more American soybeans, in a bid to improve economic relations during the ongoing 90-day trade truce. The U.S. has also called for better intellectual property protection. Wall Street Journal

Private-Public Merry-Go-Round

Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies announced shareholder approval of his plan to take the IT firm public again at the end of the month. Dell has been private since 2013 but owns 80% of the public VMware via a tracking stock and will essentially offer cash or shares in the new company to existing shareholders. Fox Business.

Around the Water Cooler

Strasbourg Shootings

French police detained five people connected with Tuesday’s shootings at the Strasbourg Christmas market, which killed three people and injured at least 12. The suspected shooter was still at large Wednesday morning. Financial Times.

Not Silenced

TIME Magazine named journalists under threat of violence and arrest its “Time Person of the Year.” Four different covers honor Washington Post columnist Jamal Kashoggi, killed by Saudi agents, the staff of the Annapolis Capital Gazette, who lost five colleagues in a shooting, Rappler chief executive Maria Ressa for her coverage of the Philippines’ drug war, and the wives of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kwaw Soe Oo, under arrest in Myanmar for covering the massacres of Rohingya people. Fortune.

Flynn Begs Leniency

Former U.S. national security advisor Michael T. Flynn’s lawyers asked a judge for leniency despite his lying to federal investigators. He faces up to six months of prison but cooperated on subsequent investigations and prosecutors say he deserves little or no jail time. New York Times.

Sea of Plastic

Swimmer Benoît Lecomte just arrived in Hawaii after a six-month swim from Japan. “Sometimes we’re swimming with whales around and then boom, 10 minutes later, a big floating plastic, a blob…to see that with sea life, that was very disturbing.” CNN.

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Lucas Laursen. Find previous editions here, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters here.