December 4, 2019 / 3:11 AM / 12 days ago

Alphabet's new CEO Pichai now sole target on Google regulatory battles

(Reuters) - Alphabet Inc’s new chief executive, Sundar Pichai, will have the hot seat all to himself as regulators around the world investigate the company, U.S. politicians demand that it be broken up, and President Donald Trump accuses it of aiding his rivals.

FILE PHOTO: White House adviser Ivanka Trump, right, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai attend a roundtable at El Centro College in Dallas, Texas, U.S. October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Brandon Wade

Pichai, who has been CEO of Alphabet’s Google for four years now, was named to the additional post of CEO of Alphabet on Tuesday, making him the public face of a company long associated with co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Page and Brin relinquished their roles as Alphabet CEO and president, respectively, saying it was time for them to step aside.

When Page declined to show up for a Senate hearing in Washington last year, senators left an empty chair next to top officers of Twitter and Facebook. Google leaders have acknowledged that was an embarrassing gaffe for the company. Other lawmakers have also to no avail demanded answers from Page on strategic decisions.

The departure two years ago of Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who had helped the company maintain ties in Washington, has also left a hole.

Alphabet shareholder King Lip, chief investment strategist at Baker Avenue Asset Management in San Francisco, said the company was transforming and facing a new set of issues including political attacks and regulatory scrutiny. “Pichai is uniquely suited to address given his overall affable attitude,” Lip said by email.

Apple Inc’s chief executive, Tim Cook, is seen as the standard for Silicon Valley success with the U.S. president, having regular, cordial meetings with Trump.

Trump has repeatedly taken aim at U.S. technology companies, including Google, alleging at times that they have discriminated against him and fellow conservatives, without offering any evidence.

Pichai himself met with Trump in March and July. “Meeting ended very well!” Trump tweeted in March. In August he adopted a different tone.

He said Pichai “was in the Oval Office working very hard to explain how much he liked me, what a great job the Administration is doing, that Google was not involved with China’s military, that they didn’t help Crooked Hillary over me in the 2016 Election.” Trump has accused Google of interfering in elections to favor his 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, although he offered no evidence, and no formal charges have been announced.

A White House spokesman declined to comment Tuesday on Pichai’s new job.

Pichai has also met on several occasions with Republican lawmaker critics to answer questions, and has since testified before Congress.

In October, Pichai announced a new job training program alongside White House adviser Ivanka Trump in Texas. He has repeatedly met with lawmakers and testified before congressional committees after the company spurned a request to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in September 2018.

Probes into Google are coming from both sides of the political aisle, as well as from other countries.

Google faces antitrust probes from the Justice Department and nearly all 50 U.S. state attorneys general. The company is among four tech giants under an antitrust probe by the Democratically controlled Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Last week Reuters reported that European Union antitrust regulators were seeking details of Google’s data collection practices, after multiple EU fines.

Only last week, Trump’s reelection campaign and several Republican campaign committees criticized Google’s decision to limit political advertising, saying the “latest arbitrary rule changes are a blatant attempt to suppress voter information, knowledge, and engagement in the 2020 election.” The groups argue “Google is stifling the ability of citizens to participate in our democracy.”

Reporting by David Shepardson and Paresh Dave; Editing by Peter Henderson and Leslie Adler

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