Google’s appearance before Congress will mark a turning point for its CEO

On Tuesday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai will testify before the
House Judiciary Committee. In some ways, the hearing will
represent the end of an era. It’s the last time we will see a
top tech executive addressing this Republican-controlled
Congress before Democrats take over the House of
Representatives next year. Mercifully, that likely means we
will go another two years without a House hearing called to
investigate
spurious

claims
of platform “bias” against conservatives.

Makena Kelly
tells us what to expect
:

Pichai is anticipated to face intense questioning from
Republican lawmakers who are concerned with the Silicon
Valley giant’s algorithms and how they may be biased to more
conservative content.

Lawmakers are also expected to grill Pichai on issues related
to data privacy and anti-competitive market behavior.

In September
, Pichai traveled to Washington, DC to meet
privately with Republican lawmakers over concerns involving
algorithms and the company’s
Dragonfly search engine project
, but he has not formally
sat before the panel for a public hearing.

Pichai’s appearance before Congress will mark the end of an era
in another way, too: it marks the conclusion of his time as
tech’s kindliest, least political CEO. My first impression of
Pichai was formed at a Google media holiday party in 2013, when
he was the only executive to attend and make small talk with
reporters. (As far as I know, it was the last time an executive
attended such a party.)

PIchai was then running Chrome, which he helped to grow into
the world’s most popular web browser. Two years later, he
became CEO of Google under the reorganized Alphabet. And by
most financial measures, his tenure has been a runaway success:
revenue is up 81 percent during that time, and the stock price
is 76 percent higher.

And while Google has faced less criticism than fellow ad-tech
giant Facebook — Facebook would say, accurately, that it has
also gotten less scrutiny — the pressures on Pichai have ramped
up significantly. The threat of regulation looms; employees are
in open revolt over a wide range of issues; and what could be
the most consequential project of his tenure — the quest to
release a censored search engine in China — could further
fragment the internet and while promoting authoritarian speech
restrictions.

In The Information,
Sarah Kuranda examines how the past two years have reshaped
Pichai’s image inside and outside the company ($)
:

Over the past year, he has struggled with employee revolts
over Google’s handling of harassment allegations, his plans
to return to the Chinese market and the company’s work with
the U.S. military. And he has grappled with the political
fallout from a decision to fire a conservative Google
employee for publishing a controversial essay.

Mr. Pichai’s penchant for consultation, once seen as a key
ingredient in his success, is now viewed as indecision by
some colleagues. Arguably, he has the most difficult job in
Silicon Valley after that of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a
fellow besieged tech leader.

In September, with questions swirling around Project Dragonfly,
Pichai turned down an invitation to appear before Congress,
generating a round of negative coverage. The result is that
Google has lacked a strong public voice at a time when it faces
some of the most difficult questions in its history.

That could begin to change next week, when Pichai belatedly
takes his seat in Congress. I expect we’ll see the same calm,
earnest leader who takes the stage at Google I/O each year to
show off the company’s latest advances. It remains to be seen
whether the House pushes him off his talking points — or
whether Pichai pushes the House off of theirs. And it is always
possible that the hearing, as do so many others, will basically
come to nothing.

Still, the stakes are high — and the event is a milestone.
Politics finally caught up to another tech CEO who had hoped to
avoid it. A steady earnestness has served Pichai well in the
past, but managing all the controversies now swirling around
his company may require a more pugnacious approach.

Democracy


Exclusive: Emails of top NRCC officials stolen in major
2018 hack

Alex Isenstadt and John Bresnahan report that unknown entity —
likely a foreign actor — successfully hacked into the email
accounts of top officials at the National Republican Campaign
Committee:

The House GOP campaign arm suffered a major hack during the
2018 election, exposing thousands of sensitive emails to an
outside intruder, according to three senior party officials.

The email accounts of four senior aides at the National
Republican Congressional Committee were surveilled for
several months, the party officials said. The intrusion was
detected in April by an NRCC vendor, who alerted the
committee and its cybersecurity contractor. An internal
investigation was initiated and the FBI was alerted to the
attack, said the officials, who requested anonymity to
discuss the incident.


EU ministers fail to break digital tax
deadlock

European Union finance ministers couldn’t come to an agreement
Tuesday on taxing digital revenues, Leigh Thomas reports.

In the original European Commission proposal, the tax was
intended to be a temporary “quick fix” until a broader
solution could be found among OECD members.

But this was opposed by Ireland and some Nordic countries,
leading French and German finance ministers to focus solely
on online advertising revenues instead. While this met with
misgivings and outright opposition from at least four other
ministers at a meeting in Brussels, they agreed to keep
talking, said Austrian Finance Minister Hartwig Loeger, whose
country holds the rotating EU presidency.


Facebook Lets Users Post About Killing Immigrants and
Minorities

Justin Glawe finds a lot of posts on Facebook with hate speech
in them.


Facebook ends platform policy banning apps that copy
its features

In a move that may be designed to fend off regulation, Facebook
will open up API access to apps that replicate core features of
its own app — including features that let users find their
Facebook friends and add them to other services, Josh Constine
reports.


Google personalizes search results even when you’re
logged out, new study claims

DuckDuckGo funded research into Google search results and found
that they differed even when the user was logged out and using
incognito mode. Google says that doesn’t mean the search was
“personalized,” exactly — search results vary depending on what
time you search, where you’re physically located, and other
factors.

Elsewhere


Facebook employees are calling former colleagues to
look for jobs outside the company and asking about the best way
to leave

Sal Rodriguez reports on an uptick in Facebook employees
looking for the exits after a bruising couple of years. He also
reveals that employees who exit are tagged either “regrettable”
(as in, Facebook wishes they had stayed) or “non-regrettable.”
The latter can never come back.

Another former Facebook director said he has seen a rise in
the number of his ex-colleagues who have reached out to ask
about openings at his current company, and these employees
often ask about advice on the best way to leave Facebook.
He’s also experienced an increase in calls from other
companies that are running references on current Facebook
staffers.

“Once it becomes weird to tell people that they work at
Facebook, or once their moms aren’t proud of them anymore,
that’s when people are going to head to the exits,” he said.
“I think we’re already getting there.”


Facebook temporarily removes, then restores note
criticizing company for its ‘black people problem’

Mark Luckie’s post about black employees’ experiences at
Facebook was mysteriously flagged for violating Facebook’s
community standards; it was restored later in the day.


Nonprofits on Facebook Get Hacked—Then They Really Need
Help

Louise Matsakis writes about the administrator of an animal
shelter’s Facebook page, who watches helplessly as her account
gets repeatedly hacked and Facebook ignores her requests for
help (until she tweeted at an executive who helped.) The larger
issues are around fundraising fraud and the lack of customer
support, even for accounts with more than 1 million followers.

Desperate, Alana reached out to Facebook for help by every
method she could imagine. She sent emails, tweets, and even
mailed letters to Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and the
company’s board of directors. She says she also tried
contacting the FBI and the Better Business Bureau. Weeks went
by before she reached anyone who could help. Finally, on
September 29, Alana heard back from someone via Twitter: Guy
Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of product management. It
was the day after Facebook
announced
a cybersecurity breach that
impacted
around 30 million users.

The Friendship
That Made Google Huge

Everybody loves this charming tale about legendary Googlers
Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat, who wrote code jointly at their
computers and changed the course of human history. James
Somers’ story is full of terrific anecdotes about Google’s
early days:

When a car goes around a turn, more ground must be covered by
the outside wheels; likewise, the outer edge of a spinning
hard disk moves faster than the inner one. Google had moved
the most frequently accessed data to the outside, so that
bits could flow faster under the read-head, but had left the
inner half empty; Jeff and Sanjay used the space to store
preprocessed data for common search queries. Over four days
in 2001, they proved that Google’s index could be stored
using fast random-access memory instead of relatively slow
hard drives; the discovery reshaped the company’s economics.
Page and Brin knew that users would flock to a service that
delivered answers instantly. The problem was that speed
required computing power, and computing power cost money.
Jeff and Sanjay threaded the needle with software.


Tumblr’s Porn Ban Is The Middle Of The End Of The Old
Internet

Katie Notopoulos says Tumblr’s porn culture is a key part of
the internet culture of the 2000s, which has been dying out —
and it’s unclear whether any of it can be meaningfully
preserved:

A lot what Tumblr is banning is just gratuitous porn GIFs,
and the internet is not lacking options when it comes to free
pornography. But Tumblr is also a thriving place for the kind
of sexual expression that you won’t find on Pornhub. “Tumblr
sex sites created spaces for ALL KINDS of people who don’t
have access to sexual community elsewhere,” wrote
Steven Thrasher
. It has always been a safe haven for
young people exploring and expressing their sexuality. There
is tasteful erotica, supportive places for people to post
their own bodies — including those that don’t look like
typical porn bodies — and to consume and engage with the wide
swath of human sexual experience that can’t be replicated by
logging on to xHamster and being greeted with a blast of
extremely aggressive heterosexual facials.

And of course, where else could one go to see erotic fan art
of the
Laughing Cow cow having sex with the Lactaid cartoon cow
?
Personally, I enjoyed the funny crude/nude humor on Tumblr (I
do a joint Tumblr, along with a few of my colleagues, called
“Worst Things on the Internet,” which is very NSFW), and I’ll
miss that. But I care more about the massive loss of internet
history that will happen when all these images vanish
forever.


Reuters is seeing a revenue bump from monetized video
views on Twitter

Reuter is … making money on Twitter??? (But not so much that

it isn’t going to lay off 3,200 people
.)

According to Dan Colarusso, executive editor at Reuters TV
and Reuters.com, Twitter now brings in “significant revenue,”
in line with what his company gets from Google AMP. “In terms
of one product on one platform, Twitter is contributing the
most,” said Colarusso, but he was unable to share specific
revenue details in time for publishing.


Quora hacked

Someone stole personal information about 100 million Quora
users, revealing that 100 million people use Quora.

Podcasts


Is it time to delete Facebook?

Today, Explained — one of Apple’s most-downloaded new
podcasts of 2018! — had me on to talk about Facebook’s bumpy
month, year, and future. (“Sounds like you explained basically
everything but today,” one colleague quipped.) I did not write
this headline!


The history of online harassment before and after
Gamergate with Caroline Sinders

Meanwhile, over on The Vergecast, Nilay Patel and I
talked about the origins online harassment and platforms’
efforts to fight it with internet historian Caroline Sinders.
(She put together
that great history of harassment
that I linked to here
recently.)

Launches


Facebook continues putting Stories everywhere, and now
it’s coming to all Groups

Feels like this could be some pricey advertising real estate,
if groups embrace stories:

Facebook announced today that it’s rolling Group Stories out
globally, after
initially debuting
them last year. The feature allows
Group members to contribute to a collaborative story. The
company’s also launching reactions in Group Stories, so users
can respond to other people’s contributions with a variety of
emoji as they watch.


Facebook schedules F8 2019 for April 30-May 1 in San
Jose

We now have dates for F8, and once again it is located rather
inconveniently (for me, anyway!) in San Jose. “When we come
together, there’s no telling what we can create,” read the
save-the-date note I received. And I was like, well, there’s at
least some telling of what we can create!


YouTube mobile apps will now autoplay videos on the
Home tab by default

Today in features no one asked for:

YouTube has announced it’s trickling down a feature from its
YouTube Premium apps, though it’s not the
background playback
that everyone really wants. Rolling
out now,
Autoplay on Home
is a new default for YouTube’s Android
and iOS apps that will automatically start playing videos you
see on your Home tab. Google will allow the option to disable
it, or only keep it on when connected to Wi-Fi, but the
company appears convinced that Autoplay on Home is a better
way to experience and browse YouTube on the move.

Takes


Twitter’s Caste Problem

Thenmozhi Soundararajan, who created the “ Smash. Brahmanical.
Patriarchy” that Twitter CEO held up in a photo, triggering an
international incident, argues Dorsey was right to stand up for
the Dalit class — whose story is the story of every
underrepresented and harrassed group on Twitter:

India, with
almost eight million
active Twitter users, is the
platform’s
fastest growing market
. An increasing number of these
users are Dalits or belong to other religious, cultural and
gender minorities. There are over
260 million Dalits in India
, and for many, Twitter truly
represented a platform where they could speak and be heard
while offering an alternative to mainstream Indian media,
which has scant Dalit representation.

But India’s entrenched structures of caste privilege and
power replicated on Twitter and forced caste-oppressed
communities off the platform, traumatizing many in the
process.


Tumblr Just Nuked the Last Safe Space to Be Horny
Online

Miles Klee writes about the distinctive phenomenon of Tumblr
horniness, and laments its upcoming passing:

A quick search of the not-yet-deleted archive yields all
kinds of curiosities you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
There’s the
Anarcho-Feminist
, curated by an anthropology student who
went on to direct a
multidisciplinary alternative-porn festival in
Switzerland
.
Oldenskin
collects vintage nudes going back decades.
Here’s
an account
that blends steamy lingerie spreads with
astrology — and
here’s one
exclusively for admiring men’s sculpted butts.
All of them reach for an aesthetic familiar to anyone who has
used Tumblr over a sustained period: lush, gentle, dreamy,
intimate. In a word, arty. Users wanted the same
palettes and contours, the same cinematic angles and
black-and-white exposures, as they did for their photos of
architecture and Sunday morning coffee. In fact, I just found
a Tumblr dedicated to
naked people drinking coffee
.

And finally …

Here is an amazing chart about one politician, Alexandria
Ocasio-Cortez, who is single-handedly propping up conservative
publishers. Their audiences can’t get enough of her:

I’ll bet a few of those articles are even true!

Talk to me

Send me tips, comments, questions, and deep thoughts about
Sundar: [email protected].

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