Industry Reacts to Google CEO Pichai’s Hearing on the Company’s Data-Collection Methods

Execs wanted more push from Congress

Google CEO Sundar Pichai sat in front of the House Judiciary Committee this week to explain how the company collects data and deploys its algorithms. Getty Images

On Tuesday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sat in front of the House Judiciary Committee for a couple of hours to explain how the tech company collects data and deploys its algorithms.
It was the first time Pichai testified in front of Congress, and it’s becoming clear that it won’t be his last, as the tech industry is increasingly at the center of American life. Google, for its part, has been at the center of the media industry for two decades. With that backdrop, Adweek spoke with insiders about their thoughts on how Pichai performed and where we could be headed.
Jason Kint, CEO, Digital Content Next
I don’t agree with the takes that are out there that the big tech CEO just ran over Congress again, or that Congress is tech-illiterate, like the kind of stuff we heard out of the Mark Zuckerberg hearing in the spring, that being the most comparable kind of hearing with a big CEO. They’re becoming smarter with their questions, and I think the staff probably is, too. Repetition of these hearings is important, and I was much more optimistic about the level of questions, for one.
I almost hesitate to point out individual [lawmakers], because I heard a lot of people zoning on the same sort of topics, and even if we went off that topic of data and antitrust and went into bias, search bias and these other questions, they are, I think, probably a different path to the same destination—which is that Google has enormous scale and isn’t very transparent, isn’t well understood and they’ve built a fortress that is preventing a lot of innovation among companies trying to compete with them. A lot of the questions pointed back to that same larger issue.
In regards to the moments where Rep. [Ted] Poe held up his iPhone and asked whether Google could track him walking across the room was a reasonable question. “I saw a lot of coverage where people tried to make the point that it was an iPhone and not a Google device,” Kint said, “but frankly, Google can track a lot of that stuff off the iPhone, too.”
Collin Colburn, analyst, Forrester
Is it really surprising Google won’t share its search engine algorithm? Congress seemed enamored with trying to unwrap how the algorithm works, but Pichai followed Google’s long history of not fully disclosing how the algorithm works. I think the bigger highlight for me was that Google seems more open to regulation than Facebook does.
Will Critchlow, CEO, Distilled
Pichai was never troubled by any of the lines of questioning, in my opinion.
Sidetracking into debates about partisan bias that didn’t start from solid data or technical foundations were easy for him to brush off.
There were tons of technical misunderstandings and basic questions, which were opportunities for him to run down the clock while appearing helpful.
China was the one area where his answers seemed shaky, but his questioners seemed to take his answers pretty much at face value. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any really deep questions explored or feel the prospect of serious oversight happening any time soon.
In my opinion, it’s a real shame we didn’t see questions going deeper into the monopoly and competition issues or into the huge problems at YouTube that resemble the manipulation and fake news problems we have seen Facebook be criticized heavily for.
Jeremy Hull, svp of innovation, iProspect
I’m not surprised that Sundar Pichai was asked about Google’s collection of users’ location data.  Today, people are sharing more information than ever before, both actively and passively. Google’s aim has always been to thoughtfully utilize this data at the individual level to personalize and continuously improve each individual’s experience with their products, and at an aggregate level to identify trends. I think the Android operating system is quite transparent about the data that is collected—when I set up my new Pixel 3 phone a few weeks ago, there were multiple prompts that disclosed the type of information collected, which invited me to opt in or opt out, and, as Pichai mentioned, Google regularly contacts users via email and invites them to review their account settings.

@joshsternberg Josh Sternberg is the former media and tech editor at Adweek.
@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.
@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.