About a month ago, all anyone could talk about is the fact that Google was considering doing business in China. Like with anything government related, it’s taken quite some time for politicians to weigh in on this important issue. David Cicilline, a U.S. Rep. from Rhode Island, blasted Google with a tweet on Thursday that said the search giant shouldn’t be using its vast resources to enable authoritarianism in China. In his tweet, Cicilline outlined his support for a bipartisan group of congressmen and attached a letter that he sent to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Among other things, it says the lawmakers felt compelled to reach out to Google with a list of questions following the disclosure last month that Google is looking into making a version of its search engine available in China that would block some websites and search terms.
Cicilline and others feel that they have a responsibility to ensure that American companies are not perpetuating human rights issues abroad. He’s not wrong. As we know all too well, that China is notorious for human rights abuses, but also censors its citizens. In the letter, which includes several questions directed at Google’s chief executive, they ask if the company would “ensure that individual Chinese citizens or foreigners living in China, including Americans, will not be surveilled or targeted through Google applications.” The lawmakers also want to know what words or search terms Google would put controls in place to prevent users in China from being able to surface results for.
Is this something that Google could deliver? I don’t know that it is. In order to get into China at all, the search engine has to block terms like “human rights”, “student protest” and “Nobel Prize”. Google – who has been blocked in China for almost 10 years – might get nailed to the wall on this one on September 26. They’ve been summoned to appear before a Senate committee along with Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Charter Communications and Twitter. The hearing will focus on how these companies protect customers and their data.
According to NBC, “House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, said on Tuesday that Google would be invited to testify on a number of issues. He wrote on Twitter that Google had worked with China and Russia on censorship but no longer wanted to do a technology deal with the U.S. Defense Department.”
Why did Google leave China in the first place? In 2010, they discovered a phishing attack targeting human rights activists. Which makes you wonder why they want back in now? Especially since the Chinese government has only tightened its reins over the internet since that time. I’m glad to see Congress taking an interest in this as well. While there are security issues, I think that the bigger concern is around human rights injustices. How can a company willingly support the oppression of its citizens? I’d like to say that I would boycott using Google if they did this, but that’s not something that any of us have the luxury of doing. Hopefully, though, Congress will have some pull on this one.