Silicon Valley is about to have another big moment before Congress. On Wednesday, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg will go before the Senate Intelligence Committee to follow-up on their work investigating (and hopefully thwarting) Russian government-linked campaigns to sow political division in the US. The hearing is titled “Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms” and begins tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM ET.
It will be both Dorsey and Sandberg’s first time appearing before Congress on the high-stakes topic, but they’re not the only invitees. Alphabet CEO Larry Page was also called before the committee, though he is the only one of the three to decline to appear on Wednesday. Google also declined to send Sundar Pichai.
“Our SVP of Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer, who reports directly to our CEO and is responsible for our work in this area, will be in Washington, D.C. on September 5, where he will deliver written testimony, brief Members of Congress on our work, and answer any questions they have,” a Google spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We had informed the Senate Intelligence Committee of this in late July and had understood that he would be an appropriate witness for this hearing.”
The spokesperson added that the company has briefed “dozens of committee members” and “briefed major Congressional Committees numerous times” regarding its efforts to safeguard US elections from interference originating abroad.
On Tuesday, Google published the written remarks it planned to deliver the following day in a blog post by Kent Walker, the company’s lead legal counsel and now SVP of global affairs.
In the statement, Google predictably reviews the steps it has taken to follow through on previous promises to Congress. Those steps include an ID verification program for anyone seeking to buy a federal US election ad from Google, in-ad disclosures attached to election ads across Google’s products, a transparency report specific to political ads on Google and a searchable ad library that allows anyone to view political ads for candidates in the US. As we previously reported, that database does not include issue-based ads or any ads from state or local races so its utility is somewhat limited though new ads will be added on an ongoing basis.
In the statement to Congress, Google also touted its Advanced Protection Program, an effort to discourage spear phishing campaigns, and Project Shield, a free DDoS protection service for US campaigns, candidates and political action committees. You can read the full statement, embedded below.
There’s not much surprising in the letter summarizing Google’s progress, nor does the company identify any particular shortcomings or specific areas of concern. That isn’t surprising either. For tech companies on Capitol Hill, the name of the game is ticking off each point of good behavior while divulging as little new information as possible.
Tomorrow the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold an important hearing on the social media companies’ responses to foreign influence operations. @Jack will be there. @SherylSandberg will be there. Larry Page should be there, too. It’s not too late for @Google to step up.
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) September 4, 2018
Because the committee has decided that it’s heard plenty from Google’s lawyers already, the company’s chair will sit empty tomorrow. Needless to say, the committee —in particular its vice chairman Sen. Mark Warner — isn’t happy about it. The committee is certainly right about one thing: during testimony, a company’s lead counsel is indistinguishable from an empty hot seat.
Tomorrow, we’ll get to see if Dorsey and Sandberg can pull of the same disappearing act. Considering Mark Zuckerberg’s enduring and even performance earlier this year and Facebook’s (in)famously composed public posture, Sandberg is certainly the favorite to make it out without breaking a sweat.