The Senate is tearing into Google for refusing to send a top exec to testify — and even left an empty chair and name tag to highlight its displeasure

  • Alphabet CEO Larry Page declined to attend Wednesday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on election security, despite appearances from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.
  • The committee left an empty chair to highlight Google’s absence, and senators tore into the company in their opening remarks.

WASHINGTON – Larry Page, the chief executive of Alphabet, declined the invitation to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, despite testimonies from two of his industry peers.

The absence of Google was a major disappointment for lawmakers on the committee, who kept a seat open in the hearing room to exhibit the company’s lack of participation alongside Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on September 5, 2018.Joe PerticoneTwitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the committee, immediately tore into Google for not participating.

In a jab at Google as it relates to election security, Burr said, “The committee takes this issue very seriously, and we appreciate that Facebook and Twitter are represented here this morning with an equivalent and appropriate measure of seriousness.”

Burr also acknowledged Google’s “commendable work” in past participation with the committee and election security.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, said in his opening remarks that he was extremely disappointed” that neither Page nor Google CEO Sundar Pichai attended.

The empty name tag left for Google's absence at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's hearing on election security on September 5, 2018.Joe PerticoneThe empty name tag left for Google at Wednesday’s Senate hearing on election security.

“I know our members have a series of difficult questions about structural vulnerabilities on a number of Google’s platforms that we will need answered,” Warner said. “From Google Search, which continues to have problems surfacing absurd conspiracies … To YouTube, where Russian-backed disinformation agents promoted hundreds of divisive videos … To Gmail, where state-sponsored operatives attempt countless hacking attempts, Google has an immense responsibility in this space.”

“Given its size and influence, I would have thought the leadership at Google would want to demonstrate how seriously it takes these challenges and to lead this important public discussion,” Warner added.

Later in the hearing, Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, chided Google for not showing. When Rubio thanked Sandberg and Dorsey for their time, he added that “there’s an empty chair next to you for Google.”

“They’re not here today,” he said, “and maybe it’s because they’re arrogant or maybe it’s because there’s a report that as of last night – this just posted at 3:36 yesterday – this group went on, basically pretending to be Kremlin-linked trolls. They used the details of the Internet Research Agency, which is a Kremlin-linked troll farm, and were able to buy ads online and place them on sites like CNN, CBS This Morning, HuffPost, Daily Beast. So I’m sure they don’t want to be here to answer these questions.”

Though the company did not send its top brass to testify before the committee, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs and chief legal officer, Kent Walker, submitted a written testimony for the record. It did not address their absence.

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