Republican senators target Google’s relationship with Chinese tech giant Huawei

Senators criticized Google for working with Huawei to develop ‘smart speakers’ that may allow China to ‘listen in on Americans’ conversations’

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was one of three senators to send a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Wednesday criticizing the tech giant for its relationship with Chinese government-aligned Huawei. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republican Sens. Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Marco Rubio excoriated Google on Wednesday for downplaying its activity in China despite a report last week that it had been working with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to develop “smart speaker” technology.

In a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the senators expressed their concern that such devices can “enable untrustworthy companies to listen in on Americans’ conversations.”

[Sen. Rubio wants to stop Huawei from filing U.S. patent lawsuits]

President Donald Trump blacklisted Huawei from engaging in business with U.S. companies in May amid his ongoing trade war with China.

Lawmakers from both parties have criticized American tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Verizon for collaborating with Huawei, the leading smartphone brand worldwide that has close ties to the communist Chinese government.

Democrats and Republicans worry that the proliferation of Huawei products in the U.S. may put national security at risk because it could allow Huawei — and thus the Chinese government — to obtain mountains of data on private U.S. citizens.

“[I]t 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,” Hawley, Cotton and Rubio wrote to Pichai about Google’s collaboration with Huawei on developing a smart speaker.

Amazon has engaged in similar planning on smart speaker products with the Chinese company.

Google suspended its project with Huawei in May after Trump blacklisted the company, according to a report from online tech trade publication The Information.

“We have no smart speakers in development with Huawei and will always prioritize privacy and security,” a spokesperson for Google said in a statement to Roll Call.

At a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in July, a representative for Google denied that the company was conducting substantial business in China.

But the senators criticized Google for forging its relationship with China in the first place and accused the company of acquiescing to government censorship laws there to curry favor with communist power-holders.

Hawley, Cotton and Rubio demanded that Pichai answer five questions about its work with Huawei, including whether it plans “to resume helping Huawei install listening devices into American homes if the blacklist is lifted.”

Huawei, which is expected to be a leader in 5G technology that will revolutionize the mobile phone landscape, has long been a target of the senators who wrote to Google on Wednesday.

Cotton, an Arkansas Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has previously called Huawei “untrustworthy,” accused it of stealing U.S. trade secrets, and asserted that “the only fitting punishment would be to give them the death penalty.”

Rubio has sought to ensure that Huawei can't file patent lawsuits in the U.S. since the backbone of its business model is Chinese government contracts.

Rubio offered an amendment to the defense authorization bill in June that would bar any company that the secretary of Commerce finds poses a security risk from pursuing an intellectual property claim in U.S. courts or before the International Trade Commission.

“We should not allow China government-backed companies to improperly use our legal system against us,” the Florida Republican said at the time.

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