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Politics catch up to Sundar Pichai

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A week from today, Google CEO Sundar Pichai will testify before the House Judiciary Committee. In som
 
December 4 · Issue #258 · View online
The Interface
A week from today, Google CEO Sundar Pichai will testify before the House Judiciary Committee. In some ways, the hearing will represent the end of an era. It’s the last time we will see a top tech executive addressing this Republican-controlled Congress before Democrats take over the House of Representatives next year. Mercifully, that likely means we will go another two years without a House hearing called to investigate spurious claims of platform “bias” against conservatives.
Pichai is anticipated to face intense questioning from Republican lawmakers who are concerned with the Silicon Valley giant’s algorithms and how they may be biased to more conservative content.
Lawmakers are also expected to grill Pichai on issues related to data privacy and anti-competitive market behavior. In September, Pichai traveled to Washington, DC to meet privately with Republican lawmakers over concerns involving algorithms and the company’s Dragonfly search engine project, but he has not formally sat before the panel for a public hearing.
Pichai’s appearance before Congress will mark the end of an era in another way, too: it marks the conclusion of his time as tech’s kindliest, least political CEO. My first impression of Pichai was formed at a Google media holiday party in 2013, when he was the only executive to attend and make small talk with reporters. (As far as I know, it was the last time an executive attended such a party.)
PIchai was then running Chrome, which he helped to grow into the world’s most popular web browser. Two years later, he became CEO of Google under the reorganized Alphabet. And by most financial measures, his tenure has been a runaway success: revenue is up 81 percent during that time, and the stock price is 76 percent higher.
And while Google has faced less criticism than fellow ad-tech giant Facebook — Facebook would say, accurately, that it has also gotten less scrutiny — the pressures on Pichai have ramped up significantly. The threat of regulation looms; employees are in open revolt over a wide range of issues; and what could be the most consequential project of his tenure — the quest to release a censored search engine in China — could further fragment the internet and while promoting authoritarian speech restrictions.
 Over the past year, he has struggled with employee revolts over Google’s handling of harassment allegations, his plans to return to the Chinese market and the company’s work with the U.S. military. And he has grappled with the political fallout from a decision to fire a conservative Google employee for publishing a controversial essay.
Mr. Pichai’s penchant for consultation, once seen as a key ingredient in his success, is now viewed as indecision by some colleagues. Arguably, he has the most difficult job in Silicon Valley after that of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a fellow besieged tech leader.  
In September, with questions swirling around Project Dragonfly, Pichai turned down an invitation to appear before Congress, generating a round of negative coverage. The result is that Google has lacked a strong public voice at a time when it faces some of the most difficult questions in its history.
That could begin to change next week, when Pichai belatedly takes his seat in Congress. I expect we’ll see the same calm, earnest leader who takes the stage at Google I/O each year to show off the company’s latest advances. It remains to be seen whether the House pushes him off his talking points — or whether Pichai pushes the House off of theirs. And it is always possible that the hearing, as do so many others, will basically come to nothing.
Still, the stakes are high — and the event is a milestone. Politics finally caught up to another tech CEO who had hoped to avoid it. A steady earnestness has served Pichai well in the past, but managing all the controversies now swirling around his company may require a more pugnacious approach.

Democracy
Exclusive: Emails of top NRCC officials stolen in major 2018 hack
EU ministers fail to break digital tax deadlock
Facebook Lets Users Post About Killing Immigrants and Minorities
Facebook ends platform policy banning apps that copy its features
Google personalizes search results even when you’re logged out, new study claims
Elsewhere
Facebook employees are calling former colleagues to look for jobs outside the company and asking about the best way to leave
Facebook temporarily removes, then restores note criticizing company for its 'black people problem'
Nonprofits on Facebook Get Hacked—Then They Really Need Help
The Friendship That Made Google Huge
Tumblr’s Porn Ban Is The Middle Of The End Of The Old Internet
Reuters is seeing a revenue bump from monetized video views on Twitter
Quora hacked
Podcasts
Is it time to delete Facebook?
The history of online harassment before and after Gamergate with Caroline Sinders
Launches
Facebook continues putting Stories everywhere, and now it’s coming to all Groups
Facebook schedules F8 2019 for April 30-May 1 in San Jose
YouTube mobile apps will now autoplay videos on the Home tab by default
Takes
Twitter’s Caste Problem
Tumblr Just Nuked the Last Safe Space to Be Horny Online
And finally ...
Here is an amazing chart about one politician, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is single-handedly propping up conservative publishers. Their audiences can’t get enough of her:
Jonathan Barnes
Quite incredible. Right leaning publishers have written over 10x the articles about @Ocasio2018 than their counterparts on the left since June 2018. Engagement numbers are staggering also - via @NewsWhip https://t.co/2GHyEVPoYj
9:13 AM - 3 Dec 2018
I’ll bet a few of those articles are even true!
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and deep thoughts about Sundar: casey@theverge.com.
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