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Google faces mounting pressure from Congress over Google+ privacy flaw


Republican leaders from the Senate Commerce Committee are demanding answers from Google CEO Sundar Pichai about a recently unveiled Google+ vulnerability, requesting the companys internal communications regarding the issue in a letter today. This past March, Google had discovered a flaw in its Google+ API that had the potential to expose the private information of hundreds of thousands of users. In the internal memo first obtained by The Wall Street Journal, officials at Google opted not to disclose the vulnerability to its users or the public for fear of bad press and potential regulatory action. Now, lawmakers are asking to see those communications firsthand. As the Senate Commerce Committee works toward legislation that establishes a nationwide privacy framework to protect consumer data, improving transparency will be an essential pillar of the effort to restore Americans faith in the services they use, the lawmakers wrote. It is for this reason that the reported contents of Googles internal memo are so troubling. On Wednesday, some of the senators Democratic counterparts on the committee reached out to the Federal Trade Commission to demand that the agency investigate the Google+ security flaw, saying in a letter that if agency officials discover problematic conduct, we encourage you to act decisively to end this pattern of behavior through substantial financial penalties and strong legal remedies. The Google+ privacy flaw comes amid a heated debate over consumer data privacy kicked off by Facebooks ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal. Over the past few weeks, lawmakers have repeatedly heard from tech executives, policy heads, and advocates on how to craft an overarching federal privacy bill. Pichai has stayed away from those discussions, even leaving the companys seat vacant at a recent Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in which executives from Facebook and Twitter faced off with lawmakers. At the same time, some senators are expressing a new openness to anti-monopoly action against modern tech companies like Google. In an interview published today in The Atlantic, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) expressed concern that both Google and Facebook may be too large for effective competitors to emerge. Is there ever an ability to really break up their market dominance? Warner said. Even if youve got a better app, you can never match them on dataBy sending these letters and requesting investigations, Congress is beginning to take what theyve heard in hearings to start to take action on behalf of consumers. Particularly in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica controversy, consumers trust in the companies that operate those services to keep their private data secure has been shaken, todays letter reads. At the same time that Facebook was learning the important lesson that tech firms must be forthright with the public about privacy issues, Google apparently elected to withhold information about a relevant vulnerability for fear of public scrutiny. Google has until October 30th to respond to the senators inquiries, just weeks before Pichai is scheduled to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee following the November midterm elections. An exact date for that hearing has yet to be announced.

Congress is fed up with Google after it hid major data breach for months


Googles childish approach to business ethics has landed it in hot water with Congress yet again. After discovering a software glitch earlier this year – persisting since 2015 — the company chose to hide it from consumers and regulators. That is, until The Washington Post exposed it earlier this week. The glitch, which has since been fixed, affected the companys Google+ social network and exposed the personal data of nearly 500K users. Not here exactly, but on our new hardware site Plugged. Google has since shut Google+ down permanently. But questions remain over the timeline, and why the company chose not to disclose the glitch and potential breach. Senators John Thune, Roger Wicker, and Jerry Moran, are now demanding answers. The trio sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Thursday requesting information about the nature of the companys response to the breach. Specifically, the Senators are demanding a copy of an internal company memo allegedly detailing plans to keep quiet about the glitch. Google initially stated it hadnt disclosed the glitch because it wasnt sure if any breach had actually occurred. The Senators letter calls that motivation into question: But according to an internal memo cited in the article, a factor in Googles decision not to disclose the vulnerability was fear that doing so would draw immediate regulatory interest, bring Google into the spotlight alongside or even instead of Facebook despite having stayed under radar throughout the Cambridge Analytical scandal, and almost [guarantee] Sundar will testify before Congress. The letter calls on Google to provide the Senators with a copy of the memo and to answer a series of seven questions related to its choice not to disclose the glitch and what it thinks its obligations to its users are. The Senators also gave Google a deadline by which to respond with its answers (5:00 PM, 30 October) and set up a staff meeting. It comes off a bit like Thune and company are trying to give Google extra homework for breaking the rules, but the existence of the memo could be perceived as an attempt to subjugate regulatory efforts during a high-profile period for big tech. Google says it had no legal obligation to disclose the glitch. This latest kerfuffle for Google isnt the first time this year its been in poor graces with members of Congress. Sundar Pichais refusal to join Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitters Jack Dorsey for a hearing last month raised the ire of Capitol Hill. Now Pichai runs the risk of Congress ordering one that focuses solely on Google. The company appears to be struggling to find its identity under Pichais leadership. This year alone it suffered employee protests over its involvement in developing AI for the military and for building a censored Search engine for the Chinese government. The latter of which earned it yet another rebuking from the US government when Vice President Mike Pence personally requested Google immediately stop working on it. It cant be a good thing for Google to be on the US governments bad side — especially considering AI regulation is almost certainly coming to the US. Perhaps Googles parent company, Alphabet, should consider putting someone in charge who doesnt, allegedly, need to be protected from testifying in front of Congress.