GOP senators press Google on reports it developed a smart speaker with Huawei

GOP senators press Google on reports it developed a smart speaker with Huawei
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Republicans senators Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioApple under pressure to unlock Pensacola shooter's phones Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech Surging Sanders draws fresh scrutiny ahead of debate MORE (Fla.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP rep introduces bill to block intelligence sharing with countries using Huawei for 5G Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Facebook deepfake ban falls short | House passes bills to win 5G race | Feds sound alarm on cyberthreat from Iran | Ivanka Trump appearance at tech show sparks backlash Cotton introduces bill blocking intel sharing with countries relying on Huawei for 5G MORE (Ark.), and Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHow Citizens United altered America's political landscape Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Biden calls for revoking key online legal protection MORE (Mo.) demanded answers from Google on Wednesday about its work to develop a smart speaker with Chinese telecommunications group Huawei.

In a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the senators noted that a few weeks ago an unnamed representative from the company had "denied, under oath, that Google has been conducting any substantial business in China."

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However, the senators cited recent reports that Google had been collaborating with Huawei to create a smart speaker that would have the capacity to listen to users.

The collaboration took place before the Department of Commerce announced in May that it would add Huawei to the “entity list.”  That step effectively banned U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei.

The senators also detailed steps Google has allegedly taken to advance business in China that they wrote “appeared designed to gain favor with the Chinese Communist Party.”

These actions, according to the senators, included working with the Chinese military, working with China to create a search engine that would allow censorship, and opening an artificial intelligence center in Beijing. 

"Your attempts three weeks ago to downplay your involvement in China, plus new revelations about your close relationship with Huawei, raise serious questions," the thee senators wrote.

“Given this background, it is hard to interpret your decision to help Huawei place listening devices into millions of American homes as anything other than putting profits before country,” the senators also said.

The senators gave Google until Aug. 30 to respond to questions including why it partnered with Huawei in the first place to create the smart speakers, whether it plans to resume work on the speakers after Huawei was added to the entity list, and whether Google had considered national security risks posed by Huawei. 

“Huawei poses serious concerns about national security,” the senators added. “The oppressive Chinese Communist Party exercises enormous influence over the company. Huawei has even admitted that it hosts a branch of the party within the company itself.”

A spokesperson for Google pushed back against concerns around its involvement with Huawei, telling The Hill that "we have no smart speakers in development with Huawei and will always prioritize privacy and security.”

Huawei has denied that it poses a national security risk.

Rubio previously introduced legislation in July alongside Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Collins breaks with GOP on attempt to change impeachment rules resolution MORE (R-Maine) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySenate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Senate blocks push to subpoena Bolton in impeachment trial Impeachment trial begins with furor over rules MORE (R-Utah) that would prohibit the removal of Huawei from the entity list until after the secretary of Commerce certified Huawei as not posing a national security threat. 

This was in response to President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE’s announcement in June that U.S. companies would be allowed to do business with Huawei in cases where there were no national security concerns. 

The letter was sent the same day the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration issued an interim rule banning federal agencies from purchasing telecommunications equipment from Huawei and four other Chinese companies after Aug. 13.

-Updated at 9:57 p.m.