In a break from its COVID relief bill negotiations, Congress held an antitrust hearing on Wednesday that featured many of the biggest names in tech. In a complete drudging, members of the GOP made Google CEO Sundar Pichai answer for his company’s total disregard for Americans’ rights and often targeting conservative voices.
They broke down in detail how Google suppresses First Amendment rights and systematically ignores consumers’ and businesses’ right to personal property. They highlighted the actions that have brought on several investigations and court cases in recent years and exposed America to what many on the right have known for a long time: Google, the world’s largest search engine, acts as a monopoly that tramples on the freedoms that make this country great.
Many members on the panel, like Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) couldn’t help but compare the company to the Chinese government and how Google seems more inclined to work with them than our own. Congressman Ken Buck (R-Col.) speculated that Google’s personal history with intellectual property theft might show that its values lie closer to the authoritarian state than American democracy.
Indeed: There are numerous examples, from multiple investigations and court cases, of Google’s alleged China-like theft of IP from competitors. They cited Google’s mobile software, Android. Google developers copied over 11,000 lines of code from the Java library after refusing to pay for a commercial licensing fee. This allowed Google to gain massive market share, with Android expanding beyond the smartphone marketplace to TVs, cars, and other appliances. Amazon Fire TV appliances, for instance, run on Fire OS which is a fork of Android. Despite multiple courts ruling against Google, the big tech giant has ostensibly used its power to keep the copyright infringement case going through the courts, with a Supreme Court hearing expected in October.
That’s far from the only case of Google’s supposed disregard for IP. During the Wednesday hearing, Congressman Buck also explained the “red-handed” case that revolves around Google’s ostensible theft of song lyrics from the website Genius. As Futurism explained, “For the last three years, Genius has been posting lyrics with a specific pattern of punctuation, according to the WSJ. If you look through the apostrophes in Genius’ song lyrics, you’ll see that the curved and straight-line apostrophes spell out ‘Red Handed’ in Morse code. Genius claims to have found 100 songs in Google search results that mirror that same pattern, indicating that Google is lifting song lyrics from the site without even changing the formatting.”
While disrespecting Americans’ private property is bad enough, Republicans drew further comparisons for Google’s evident assault on the First Amendment. Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and Greg Steube (R-Fla.) worked to confront Pichai on what the tech giant has long denied: that they target conservative voices. Confronted with comments of Google executives after the 2016 election, Pichai denied any wrongdoing on the part of the search giant. The response was laughable, and thankfully, House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) didn’t let him slide, continuing to hold Google’s feet to the fire.
The issue of de-platforming and content removal was also a constant point of contention. Why is it that the World Health Organization could lie for China, but conservative doctors can’t discuss their medical findings? Again, the CEO played dumb for the cameras.
That seemed to be the theme of the night for Pichai. When Steube brought up conservative campaign emails heading straight towards spam, he saw no issue. The defunding of websites and removing of voices? More rambling from the head of Google. The play dumb defense isn’t believable for someone as smart as Pichai, but unfortunately, there wasn’t time to dig deep down to the roots.
While the trial “only” lasted six hours, this isn’t the end of the story.
What comes next for lawmakers is an all-out assault on the monopolistic search engine. Congress will pursue regulatory reform to ensure enforcement against big tech’s bad behavior. This will coincide with investigations by the State Attorney Generals and Department of Justice, who will release their findings in the next few weeks. Finally, in October, the Supreme Court will hear the Android Java script case.
With so many moving parts, these investigations will undoubtedly continue into the next year, regardless of November’s election results.
But one thing remains clear: Google has become a threat to our democracy. That’s the bipartisan conclusion reached by congressmen including Jordan, Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Gaetz, and David Cicilline (D-R.I.). Congress can exert its role by reforming antitrust regulations to better include tech companies in enforcement, review liability laws to protect First Amendment rights, and increase other enforcement capabilities, so the talks of copyright violations start quieting down.
The stakes are clear, as multiple members of Congress in both parties made plain. Left unchecked, Google’s growing power threatens Americans’ free speech and the integrity of our elections.