Rep. Johnson Discusses Consumers’ Digital Privacy with Google CEO
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04), the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet (IP), today questioned Google CEO Sundar Pichai on the importance of consumers’ digital privacy in the online ecosystem. The following is a transcript of his exchange in Judiciary Committee hearing: “Transparency & Accountability: Examining Google and its Data Collection, Use, and Filtering Practices.”
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Chairman Goodlatte: The chair recognizes the gentleman from Georgia for five minutes.
Congressman Johnson: Thank you. Have you ever heard talk of this e-mail you were just asked about sent by your head of multicultural marketing?
Mr. Pichai: Not at that time, but later when there were expressions made about it.
Congressman Johnson: Is it true she sent that e-mail or could that be fake news? (laughter)
Mr. Pichai: My understanding is there were e-mails sent.
Congressman Johnson: But it’s your testimony today that Google did not configure features to get out the Latino vote in key states?
Mr. Pichai: We don’t build partisan features with any goals around affecting elections in those ways. We focus efforts on helping people register to vote and we reach users across the United States. Any time we do these efforts informing people where to vote, these are used in a very distributed way widely across the entire country.
Congressman Johnson: Thank you, sir. Google’s collection and use of consumer’s data in its record of protecting consumers and their data are appropriate areas of congressional oversight, but sadly this committee has neglected consumer protection as an area of oversight choosing instead to squander their oversight responsibility and use its power to bully Google and other technology companies into minimizing negative news and comments about Republicans and most importantly the Trump Administration. Yesterday, Google disclosed that private profile data of over 52 million users may have been exposed. I understand you’re phasing out the Google Plus platform, but many Americans trust your e-mail platform and countless other products with their personal information. And you admit that you collect private data for use in advertising. How can we be assured, considering this new breach, that our personally identifiable information of consumers is safe with you?
Mr. Pichai: Building software has bugs associated as part of the process. We undertake a lot of efforts to find bugs and so we find it and fix it and that’s how we constantly make our systems better and the biggest area of risk we normally see for our users is around security. That’s how we work hard. We have an advanced protection program. It allows a second layer of protection, which makes it much harder to get your account misappropriated in any way.
Congressman Johnson: Thank you. Yesterday, The New York Times published an in-depth investigation of your location-tracking applications that identified our personally identified data. Google has said that it doesn’t sell data, but as a corporation deeply involved in the business of consumer data use in advertising, your company benefits from applications that track consumer locations. How do you differentiate what Google does with geolocation on data from companies with applications that track and sell the data?
Mr. Pichai: As a company, we do not sell user data. That would be against our principles.
Congressman Johnson: How do you differentiate what you do with the geolocation data from companies that do sell the data?. How do you differentiate what you do with that data versus what these applications that do track and sell the data do?
Mr. Pichai: An important source of differentiation. We would never sell user data. We give consumers preferences about how their data is used for advertising. Most of our user experience is we make our advertising relevant based on the key words you type in. You can control your ad settings and change the use of personal data as well.
Congressman Johnson: As my time expires, do you believe Google has done enough to be transparent in its data collecting policies?
Mr. Pichai: We always think there’s more to do. It’s an area of ongoing effort for us. But we have enlisted a lot over the years, and we make it transparent and encourage users to check it out. 20 million users go and check it. Over the last month, 170 million users did check it.
Congressman Johnson: Thank you. I yield back.