Each week, technology reporters and columnists from The New York Times review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry.
Hello, dear readers. I’m Daisuke Wakabayashi, a reporter covering Google in our San Francisco bureau. This past week, however, I spent my time in the nation’s capital covering the congressional hearing for Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive. He faced questions about the company’s data-collection practices, about accusations of bias against conservatives in search results and about Google’s possible plans to provide a censored search engine for China.
It was the first congressional hearing I had attended, and the spectacle was eye-opening. It underscored, to me, how Silicon Valley and Washington exist in their bubbles without really understanding each other. Lawmakers seemed like out-of-touch old people with little grasp of how technology works and where the real risks lie. Mr. Pichai came across as evasive and unwilling to acknowledge the legitimate concerns about Google’s business practices.
At holiday parties and informal discussions in Washington, the conversation often turned to big tech and privacy. There seemed to be a growing wariness among lawmakers, regulators and aides about data collection and the unrelenting push by companies to gather more information about us.
A New York Times investigation into the practices of the location-tracking industry came up repeatedly during the hearing and in conversations afterward. Even for people well versed in technology, the volume and specificity of location-data collection was shocking.
While many expressed concern about the bigness of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, there wasn’t a consensus on how to deal with them. A federal privacy law with real teeth seemed uncertain, and not many folks expected antitrust regulation even in the face of European action.
All the while, tech companies continue to sell the message that they are job creators and engines of economic growth.
At bus stops throughout Washington, one of the frequent revolving posters is for the “Grow With Google” campaign, a feel-good job and technology training program introduced by the company last year. It comes on the heels of Amazon’s very public beauty contest for HQ2 and, ultimately, HQ3.
■ Apple also made clear, in an announcement of plans to build a massive new office in Austin, Tex., that it, too, creates jobs outside Silicon Valley. Tech companies from the Valley have been opening big offices in other cities for decades, but they’re getting more aggressive about it as they pursue specialized engineering talent.
■ An argument often made against antitrust action is that the technology industry is dynamic, and that today’s dominant predator can become tomorrow’s prey. Nokia once dominated mobile phones but lost its standing to Samsung and Apple in the smartphone era.
Similarly, Intel, once so overwhelming a force in the semiconductor industry that it was a frequent target of antitrust cases, is struggling to keep pace with a shifting industry. My colleague Cade Metz explained how Amazon is the latest tech company to start building its own chips, threatening Intel’s grip on the server chip market.
■ It’s rare for a bail hearing to make international news, but this was no ordinary arrest.
Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the tech behemoth Huawei and a daughter of the company’s founder, was arrested Dec. 1 at the airport in Vancouver, British Columbia, for extradition to the United States.
The American and Canadian authorities claim Ms. Meng circumvented trade sanctions against Iran, using a Huawei subsidiary. The arrest of a prominent executive at one of China’s biggest tech companies, with close ties to the government, complicates the Trump administration’s negotiations to end a trade war with China.
On Tuesday, a judge granted bail of 10 million Canadian dollars, or about $7.5 million. Ms. Meng agreed to 24-hour physical and electronic surveillance and a curfew.
■ China was at the center of another interesting tech industry news story. Qualcomm said a Chinese court had ordered Apple to stop selling older iPhones in China. The court, according to Qualcomm, said Apple had infringed on two Qualcomm patents and issued a preliminary injunction on seven older iPhone models.
It’s another sign of the deteriorating relationship between the two companies. Apple sued Qualcomm last year, accusing it of monopolistic practices. Qualcomm has accused Apple of patent infringement, while carrying out a public-relations campaign against the iPhone maker.
Daisuke Wakabayashi writes about Google and other big tech companies from the San Francisco bureau of The New York Times. Follow him on Twitter @daiwaka.