Google targeted by Republican senators over Huawei project

The lawmakers demand answers about a smart speaker the two companies were reportedly developing.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

The letter to Google came from the office of Sen. Josh Hawley.

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Congress wants answers from Google about the tech giant's relationship with Chinese company Huawei. Three Republican senators sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Wednesday, following reports last week that Google is working with Huawei on an internet-enabled speaker with a microphone. 

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas chastised Google for reportedly partnering with Huawei on a device before suspending the project because of President Donald Trump restricting Huawei's access to US tech suppliers. The White House cited national security concerns for clamping down on Huawei.

"What due diligence did Google perform before agreeing to help Huawei put a listening device into millions of American living rooms?" the letter says. "As we have discovered, Huawei poses serious concerns about national security." 

The senators also asked Pichai several specific questions, including when the two companies began working on the device and whether Google would continue developing the device with Huawei if the Chinese company were taken off the trade blacklist. Google has until Aug. 30 to respond. 

Huawei didn't respond to a request for comment. In a statement, Google said it's not currently developing a smart speaker with Huawei but didn't specifically address the letter. 

The senators also blasted Google for its other work in China, including setting up an artificial intelligence lab in Beijing two years ago. And the lawmakers criticized Google for a project called Dragonfly, which was an attempt to build a search product for China, after Google had initially retreated from the Chinese market in 2010. 

Last month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he met with Pichai to discuss the company's work in China. After the meeting, Mnuchin said he and Trump had no security concerns about Google's work in the country. Two days later, though, Trump tweeted that there "may or may not" be security concerns.

Update, 3:18 a.m. PT: Adds response from Google.