Val Demings repeatedly presses Google's Pichai on 'staggering' consolidation of consumer data

Val Demings repeatedly presses Google's Pichai on 'staggering' consolidation of consumer data
© Greg Nash

Democratic Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsThe Hill's Campaign Report: LIVE: Trump from Gettysburg | The many unknowns of 2020 | Omar among those facing primary challenges Sean 'Diddy' Combs, Charlamagne Tha God, others urge Biden to pick Black female VP Hillary Clinton labels Trump coronavirus executive actions a 'stunt' MORE (Fla.) on Wednesday repeatedly pressed Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai on Google's practices when it comes to consumer data, asking whether the tech giant felt it didn't need to care about Americans' privacy because of its market power. 

The questioning from Demings came as Pichai testified alongside the heads of Apple, Amazon and Facebook in a House antitrust subcommittee hearing zeroing in on the size and power of tech companies. 

Demings, considered a candidate to be presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says he is 'seriously' considering a capital gains tax cut Why Joe Biden is in trouble Harris favored as Biden edges closer to VP pick MORE's running mate, used her allotted time to question whether Google's consolidation of consumer data was leading to fewer restrictions surrounding privacy. She said her chief concern was a broad pattern of "Google buying up companies for the purposes of surveilling Americans," arguing that because of its dominance "users have no choice but to surrender."

"More user data equals more money, is that correct?” Demings asked.

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Pichai pushed back, saying that "most of the data" Google collects today "is to help users and provide personalized experiences back.”

Demings zeroed in on Google's 2007 acquisition of DoubleClick, a provider of advertising tools. She noted that the move initially raised alarm bells because of the access to data Google could receive through it. But Google executives said at the time that they would keep DoubleClick's database of web activities separate from information the company collects through other accounts, such as Gmail. 

"But in June 2016, Google went ahead and merged this data anyway, effectively destroying anonymity on the internet," Demings said, referring to reports from that year that Google stopped banning the practice of anonymous online ad tracking. 

Pichai acknowledged that he became CEO in 2015 and likely would have signed off on such a decision, prompting Demings to note what she called the "staggering" ways Google can track user data today. 

Google's dominance in search and advertising — the company's digital ad market share is expected to be about 30 percent this year — has prompted heightening scrutiny in recent years from lawmakers and regulators. The company is the subject of investigations from Congress, the Justice Department and state attorneys general.