Sen. Hawley Stakes Out, Stalks, Big Tech

Google was the edge player arguably in Washington's sites--or at least one new Senator's sites--most prominently this past week, though that is becoming a harder title to claim as Amazon and Facebook take their turns in the spotlights of bipartisan Hill disapproval.

Senator and Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was an equal opportunity critic, signaling her plan last week to break up the Biggest Tech if she becomes President, but freshman Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) was looking to stake out Big Tech attacks as his signature issue, sending out at least three e-mails to reporters to point to his tough talk.

When pressed by Hawley during a Hill hearing last week, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford agreed with Hawley that Google's relationship with China is problematic.

Related: Sen. Hawley Says Big Tech Sweetheart Deal Must End

"We watch with great concern when industry partners work in China knowing there is that indirect benefit, and frankly ‘indirect’ may be not a full characterization of the way it really is," he said. "It’s more of a direct benefit to the Chinese military."

Hawley responded: "[We have an American company that does not want to do work with our Defense Department, which is one thing, but they’re happy to help the Chinese, at least the Chinese government that is, the Chinese military at least indirectly. I think that’s just extraordinary."

The reference to not helping the U.S. was Google's decision not to work with the Defense Department on an artificial intelligence project because it could aid in the making of war, which violated its corporate ethics

Then there was an exchange with Google Senior Privacy Counsel Will DeVries after DeVries said Google's data collection was "complicated."

“Actually it’s not complicated," Hawley retorted. "What’s complicated is you don’t allow consumers to stop your tracking of them. You tell them that you do, you would anticipate that they do, a consumer would have a reasonable expectation based on what you’ve told them that they’re not being tracked but in fact you’re still tracking it. You’re still gathering the information and you’re still using it.”

That was in addition to Hawley's co-sponsorship last week of a bill with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that would boost children's online data protections and the letter he sent to the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission calling on the agency to better oversee edge giants like Google and Facebook. It has enforceable consent decrees with both related to their online practices. .

"With so much disturbing news this week about the business tactics of one of the world’s most powerful companies [Googe], you can expect to see more from Senator Hawley on this," said Hawley's office, adding: "Stay tuned."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.