During a busy day of Capitol Hill hearings focused on tech, a top executive at Alphabet (GOOGL) - Get Report confirmed that the company has ended Project Dragonfly, a controversial project aimed at building a search engine for the Chinese market.
At a hearing called by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was focused on whether tech companies engage in censorship, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) questioned Karan Bhatia, Google's VP of global government affairs, about Project Dragonfly. The project had attracted prior scrutiny from lawmakers, as well as free speech advocates and some of Alphabet's own employees, because it would have required the company to comply with the Chinese government's censorship standards. Google hasn't had a significant presence in the market since 2010.
Google executives, including CEO Sundar Pichai, had been evasive thus far about the status of Project Dragonfly, but at Tuesday's Senate Judiciary hearing, Bhatia told members that the project has been terminated and that Google has no "current plans to go into the China search market."
It's not entirely clear at what point the project was terminated. Recently, Alphabet wrote in a proxy filing, in response to a proposal to publish an assessment of Project Dragonfly, that "there is no work being undertaken on such a project and team members have moved to new projects." In December 2018, however, Pichai testified that Googlehad "no plans to launch" a search engine in China, but also noted that Project Dragonfly was a "limited effort internally" at that time.
The censorship-focused hearing was one of multiple Congressional hearings on Tuesday focused broadly on the influence of Big Tech, and included executives from Facebook (FB) - Get Report Apple (AAPL) - Get Report , and Amazon (AMZN) - Get Report , in addition to Alphabet.
Earlier in the day, the Senate Banking Committee questioned David Marcus, former president of PayPal (PYPL) - Get Report who now runs Facebook's Libra project, about the cryptocurrency plan in an often combative series of exchanges.
Later, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing exploring antitrust issues, with legal and policy executives from Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet in attendance. The FTC and the Department of Justice are preparing sweeping antitrust investigations of the four Big Tech firms -- and while Congress doesn't have the power to enforce antitrust rules, it can potentially pass new laws governing the behavior of big businesses.
At the antitrust hearing, Google's director of economic policy Adam Cohen argued that consumers have many options when it comes to finding information online.
"In our core search business, consumers can choose among a range of options: Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, and many more. Specialized search services are strong competitors, too, including companies like Amazon, eBay, Kayak, Travelocity, Yelp and others," he said, reading from prepared remarks before the committee. Alphabet controls more than 90% of the online search market, according to the researcher Rand Fishkin.
Representatives from the other tech firms each made the case that their businesses aren't anti-competitive, with Facebook's head of policy development, Matt Perault, arguing that Facebook's acquisition strategy enables both it and its M&A targets to be more innovative. Amazon's associate general counsel Nate Sutton, meanwhile, made the case that Amazon is just one of many online marketplaces in the U.S. and elsewhere.
In one extended exchange, Rep. David Cicilline repeatedly reminded Sutton that he was under oath in questioning whether Amazon uses data on the popularity of products in order to compete using its own "private label" products.
"We don't use individual seller data to directly compete with them," Sutton said.
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