Senators Ask Google for Answers About Huawei Relationship

Firms were working together on home 'listening device,' reporting revealed (Updated)

Sen. Tom Cotton / Getty Images

Republican senators Tom Cotton (Ark.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), and Marco Rubio (Fla.) are demanding in a letter that Google provide details about its relationship with Chinese tech firm Huawei.

The letter released Wednesday followed reports that the two firms were working together on a smart speaker prior to the Trump administration's ban on the importation of Huawei technology. According to the Information, Huawei was planning to sell a Google Assistant-enabled speaker in markets outside of China, including in the United States.

"These devices can enable untrustworthy companies to listen in on Americans' conversations," the letter says. "What due diligence did Google perform before agreeing to help Huawei put a listening device into millions of American living rooms?"

According to the senators, this news came just weeks after a Google representative denied, under oath, "that Google has been conducting any substantial business in China." They say the collaboration follows "a string of acts that appear designed to gain favor with the Communist Chinese Party, often at the expense of Americans."

Google did not respond to requests for comment.*

Collaboration with Huawei—which is known to be beholden to China's communist ruling regime—is just the latest of Google's business dealings in China. In the past, according to Cotton, Hawley, and Rubio, Google operated a version of its search engine censored for the Chinese internet, and later worked on a different, similarly censored search engine. It also allegedly mistranslated a phrase in Chinese to convert "I am sad to see Hong Kong become part of China" to "I am happy to see Hong Kong become part of China."

"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 letter says.

The letter is addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who has overseen the company's expanding presence in China. Cotton, Hawley, and Rubio conclude their letter with five questions for Pichai: Why did Google partner with Huawei to work on a listening device? Why did the relationship continue after evidence of Huawei's commitment to "theft and duplicity" emerged? What steps were taken to reduce national security vulnerabilities? What consideration was given to national security? And does Google plan to resume working with Huawei if the trade ban is lifted?

The letter demands answers to the questions by the end of the month.

The letter is just the latest reflection of growing public skepticism of Google's relationship with China's communist leadership, which joins two major concerns of the "new American right"—skepticism of big tech and hostility to an increasingly aggressive China. The firm drew fire for continuing to work with a brutal dictatorship after it ended cooperation with the U.S. Department of Defense. Last month, tech billionaire Peter Thiel called on the FBI and CIA to investigate whether Google had been infiltrated by Chinese spies.

*UPDATE*

A Google spokesman denied that it is working on a smart speaker with Huawei.

"We have no smart speakers in development with Huawei and will always prioritize privacy and security," the spokesperson told the Free Beacon.