Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) blasted Google in a hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, accusing the tech giant of failing to supply consumers with a meaningful way to opt-out of its invasive data-collection practices.
The Senator, a fierce critic of big tech who recently used his on-stage appearance at CPAC to warn of a “concentration of power” in Silicon Valley and “sweetheart deals” between tech companies and the government, suggested that Google was denying its users a meaningful choice.
“I’m concerned about the implicit bargain that consumers are being asked to ratify, by which they get supposedly free services but actually have enormous amounts of personal data extracted from them without knowing exactly what’s going on.”
Hawley drew attention to Google’s written testimony to the committee, in which the company said “for over twenty years now, our flagship products have been free … Google clearly explains how it makes money, and clearly explains how [our] products use personal information.”
“My question is, is that really true? Are any of those statements actually true?” asked Hawley.
The Senator went on to ask Google’s spokesman, Will DeVries, why Android phones collected location data on users even when users elect to turn off Google’s “location services” feature, which gives Google permission to collect location data from its users.
“Do you think an average consumer – let’s say a teenager with an Android phone – would be surprised to learn that Google is tracking his location even when location services are turned off … by scanning WiFi networks around him throughout the day. Do you think he’d be surprised by that?”
DeVries insisted that Google’s data-collection was solely to “provide value back to the user” and to “make the phone work.”
“So the consumer cannot meaningfully opt-out” interjected Hawley. “He has gone and tried to turn location services off, he’s not using his phone, it’s still communicating and sending information to you!”
“Here is my basic concern” said the senator. “Americans have not signed up for this. They think that the products you’re offering them are free — they’re not free. They think that they can opt-out of the tracking that you’re performing — they can’t meaningfully opt-out. It’s kinda like that old Eagles song, you know — you can check out an any time, but you can never leave.”
“That’s kind of what it’s like dealing with your company. And that’s a problem for the American consumer. It’s a real problem. And for somebody who has two small kids at home, the idea that your company and others like it are sweeping up information to build a user profile that will track every step, every movement, and monetize that and they can’t do anything about it, and I can’t do anything about it — that’s a big problem that this Congress needs to address.”