In short: Sixteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives penned a letter to Google demanding a straight answer on whether the company has any plans to return to China, i.e. its Internet search market. The bipartisan group also asked whether Google is considering cooperating with the Far Eastern country’s censorship authorities should its widely reported plans to relaunch its search engine in China eventually materialize. The lawmakers said they were concerned about the alleged plan and are still waiting for a response from the Mountain View, California-based technology giant.
Background: The development comes following several reports about the company planning a return to the country that its Search team unit left in 2010 in order to protest Beijing’s censorship practices. The existence of the secretive project was only disclosed to a small number of the firm’s employees, with many others protesting the initiative following media reports about the thereof. Last month, Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai told Googlers the company isn’t planning to re-enter the Chinese Internet search market anytime soon but didn’t entirely dismiss the idea of doing so, prompting additional criticism, both internal and external. The timing of the report coincided with Google’s decision to discontinue Project Maven, an initiative to weaponize artificial intelligence that it pursued alongside Pentagon but ended up dropping due to employee activism which didn’t sit well with U.S. legislators.
Impact: Regardless of Google’s response to the matter, the company’s officials are likely to be grilled on the matter two weeks from now when they’re set to appear in front of a Senate committee as part of a hearing on digital privacy in the U.S. The gathering is likely to be extra tense for Google in light of the fact that the company was heavily criticized for missing a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on election security earlier this month, with all of its top officials declining to attend the event despite their colleagues from Facebook and Twitter complying with the request.
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