Analysis: Is Congress Doing Big Tech’s Bidding on Extremist Artificial Intelligence Push?

News & Politics

The House Subcommittee on Innovation, Data and Commerce hosted a hearing, headlined “Economic Danger Zone: How America Competes to Win the Future Versus China.” The problem? The witnesses consisted of a string of leftist-funded, Big Tech-backed organizations trying to push a dystopian artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicle (AV) scheme under the pretense of protecting American national security against China.

The Feb. 1 subcommittee hearing, headed by subcommittee chairman Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) specifically placed emphasis on beating Communist China in the global race for AI and AV technology while also supposedly stifling the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) attempts to steal U.S. consumer data through legislative action. “Chinese companies, who enjoy a nationalized privacy and data security standard, operate with this regulatory certainty, which is a competitive edge,” the hearing summary alleged. However, witnesses presenting at the hearing made scant mention of the dangers of liberal Big Tech companies like Google that could exploit the data made available by AVs to nefarious ends.

MRC Business staff attended the event and later analyzed the hearing, background and testimony of the witnesses present. Representatives from leftist-funded organizations like the Center for American Progress (CAP), R Street, and New America gave testimony to the subcommittee about the need to beat China by leading the world in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and creating a federal privacy and data security standard. MRC Business discovered that some of the witness organizations present were either linked to China through philanthropic funding they received in the past, or connected to Big Tech companies like Google that have a sordid history of data mining and violations of data privacy. 

Utilizing Foundation Directory Online data and reporting by The New York Times, MRC Business discovered that leftist organizations like George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund and Omidyar Network Fund, and the liberal Ford Foundation, funneled at least a massive $231,591,575 between 1999-2022 collectively into three of the organizations (CAP, New America and R Street) represented at the hearing. 

MRC Business & Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider said in a statement that he was “impressed” in-part with the subcommittee addressing some of the issues related to artificial intelligence and privacy as they pertain to China’s data stealing. However, said Schneider, “the witnesses who testified before the committee are hiding the ball. They refused to focus on how Big Tech companies will be blocked from using our data against us.” He continued: “It doesn’t matter if our data is not sold to third parties if the manufacturers use that data to attack us.” Schneider pointed out how “Google, Facebook and Twitter had a long history of using our personal data against us.” He continued: “The committee needs to focus on ensuring that these companies don’t use our data to cancel us, to destroy us and annihilate us. Our rights must be protected.” 

Watch the full Feb. 1 House Subcomittee hearing on Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Vehicles below.

Given Big Tech’s ongoing campaign to censor views that don’t align with leftist politics, giving companies like Google access to user data on a potentially new and massive scale should concern every American. In fact, Google just dealt with a location tracking lawsuit brought by 40 U.S. states against the Big Tech giant, to which it agreed to pay a $391.5 million settlement. Google also happens to be a pioneer in the autonomous vehicle industry.

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) even pointed out towards the end of the hearing that Google’s autonomous vehicle company Waymo partnered with the China-based global auto manufacturing company Geely. Lasko asked witness R Street policy director Brandon Pugh: “Should I worry? Should we worry about [Google’s] partnership with a Chinese automobile company with autonomous vehicles as far as, ‘Will our data be secure or will the Chinese Communist Party use it?’” Pugh deflected by saying he wasn’t familiar with the partnership, but gave a lackluster warning about Chinese involvement in certain companies and a macro-level reference to the need for companies like Google to make sure the data that is being collected is “secured.” Pugh danced around the issue of criticizing Google’s partnership with the China-based Geely directly. Perhaps because R Street has specifically celebrated Google’s Waymo in previous years.

Deeper analysis into the whole dog and pony show appeared to be Congress working with Big Tech interests to assume more control over Americans’ data and using the excuse of “security” to do so. As Why We Drive (2021) author Matthew Crawford told MRC Business in a statement on the hearing: “Big Tech has become a rival government within the territory of the United States. It is nowhere provided for in the Constitution. This seems to be a problem.” 

Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association (AVIA) Executive Director Jeff Farrah, a witness at the hearing, lambasted human behavior contributing overwhelmingly to vehicle-related deaths in 2021 and stated that U.S. policymakers “must prioritize AV policy and do so with urgency” in order to beat China to the punch. In Farrah’s view, AVs prioritize “safety” and are more responsible than humans: “AVs don’t speed, they don’t drive drunk, and they don’t drive distracted. Sadly, human drivers do all of those things.” 

Not so fast. A 2022 analysis by the University of California was headlined: “Autonomous vehicles can be tricked into dangerous driving behavior.” In fact, Fox News reported in 2020 that a study concluded that “[a]utonomous cars won’t prevent most crashes.” 

Autonomous vehicles have been shown to be hotbeds for cybersecurity threats themselves due to their potential to be hacked by bad actors (foreign and domestic), something Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN) tacitly pointed out to Farrah in the hearing. Farrah danced around the issue: “I think, from our perspective, cybersecurity is very important. Obviously, our industry is very motivated to make sure that the vehicles are kept safe — that those riding in the vehicles are also kept safe. And so, this is something where there are obviously cyber threats out there.” He continued: “This is something where, obviously, the AV industry would like to be at the table on that.” Subcommittee Vice Chair  Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) even raised the concern that making AI more mainstream should make lawmakers “more cognizant of the amount of data we’re making available to our adversaries” like China when it uses apps like TikTok to extract large amounts of consumer data. The goal of the hearing, in part, was to discuss installing a “federal framework that creates a uniform national standard” and unleashes deployment for AI-operated AVs.

If the goal of the hearing was to emphasize bipartisan solutions to data security measures to protect consumer privacy in relation to AI and AVs to beat China, it turned out to be a joke.

Two of the witness organizations, CAP and R Street, have been funded with $1,224,000 (2008-2010) and $1,663,000 (2012-2019) respectively from the California-based Energy Foundation China (ECF), according to FDO data. One of ECF’s goals, according to an archived website page from 2020, was to “assist China to achieve a transition to green economic growth, and become the world leader in clean energy production, consumption, and investment, by 2030.” The EFC even admitted that it operates under the supervision of the Communist Chinese government:

[ECF’s] China representative office is registered with the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau and supervised by the National Development and Reform Commission of China.

This means that the two witness organizations emphasizing the need for data and privacy security against China took over $1 million a piece from an organization that works for the Chinese government. Did the Subcommittee even bother vetting these organizations before they testified?

Farrah’s AVIA is partnered with the leftist coalition Chamber of Progress, a Big-Tech funded outfit that supports online censorship to combat so-called “hate speech and dangerous misinformation.” The Chamber of Progress discloses that its work is supported by Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Google. Even more revealing is that Chamber of Progress was launched and spearheaded by none other than former Google executive Adam Kovacevich. Kovacevich identifies as a “veteran Democratic tech industry leader who has had a front row seat for more than 20 years in the tech industry’s political maturation.” 

Why is Farrah’s AV-centered organization actively partnering with a leftist organization tied to a former Google executive and other Big Tech companies that have sordid histories of data mining and data privacy malfeasance?  Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is reportedly drawing major scrutiny for collecting personal and sensitive taxpayer information after filing taxes with services like H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer. Security.org cited Google, in particular, with an “F” grade for being arguably the most notorious amongst data mining Big Tech companies:

Google collects and stores most of your information by far. That’s not surprising, as their business model relies on knowing as much data as possible (and making it super easy for you to access). However, the company keeps a ton of data on you, the searcher, as well as the world at large. From your precise location to your browsing history, from your activity on third-party sites or apps to the emails in your Gmail account, if it’s data, there’s a good chance that Google is collecting it.

In particular, “As far as location goes, Google keeps track of you[] via GPS, sensor data from your device, and information about things near your device like Wi-Fi access points, cell towers, or Bluetooth-enabled devices,” Security.org reported.  As if on cue — just a day after the subcomittee’s hearing propping up AI— Google CEO Sundar Pichai reportedly told investors that his company would be rolling out its own AI technology for search called LaMDA to compete with OpenAI’s ChatGPT. ChatGPT has already been shown to have a liberal bias, and it’s unlikely Google’s version would be any better. It is telling that Pichai would announce his company’s AI development just after the subcommittee’s hearing given Google’s links to at least two of the witness organizations present.

Google was even operating an AI research center in Beijing before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, according to The Observer. Google also reportedly continues to host its Chrome Browser in mainland China. 

The Times reported in 2017 that then-Google CEO and anti-Trump activist Eric Schmidt and his foundation gave at least $21 million to New America since 1999. Ex-Google CEO Schmidt told CNBC March 2022 that Big Tech needed to become more involved in “national security.” Schmidt reportedly was also New America’s chairman until 2016 and is currently listed as “Board Member Emeritus.” What’s revealing is that New America cyber policy fellow Samm Sacks, another witness for the hearing, drew attention to the Global Cross Border Privacy Rules, which she praised as a “data transfer alliance that requires companies to certify to common standards for privacy protection while enabling cross border transfers for those certified companies.” Here’s the problem: The Global Cross Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) is a Google globalist wishlist item. Sacks emphasized that “the ability of U.S. firms to maintain high rates of innovation depends on access to global markets” and “international datasets.”

Sacks stressed earlier in the hearing that America shouldn’t be “overly restrictive” in the setting of guardrails on AI innovation. “AI depends on access to quality and quantity of data and US firms need access to that in order to innovate in AI.”  Perhaps this will benefit “firms” like liberal Google? Sacks even conceded on a personal note that government spending on new legislation that impacts the market (and the AI sector for that matter) was the equivalent of “pick[ing] winners and losers,” but attempted to resolve the issue by claiming that “we need to be smart how we allocate those [state] resources.”

Google Chief Privacy Officer Keith Enright wrote in 2022 how the CBPR was one of the “frameworks to maintain both privacy and essential data flows.” Enright even acknowledged that Google was an active participant in the first CBPR Global Forum in 2022 “along with representatives from 20 jurisdictions.” Enright claimed the CPBR was “a critical moment for governments to work with industry and other stakeholders to stabilize the regulatory landscape so that companies can confidently offer products and services that rely on international data flows without compromising privacy protections.” It’s as if Sacks was basically repeating Google’s talking points on global data sharing. [Emphasis added.] 

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) raised the issue about the amount of data that would be potentially exposed by AVs sanctioned by the federal government. “We have more machinery of government than is necessary. Too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious. Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have.” Duncan noted that Chinese-backed AV companies like AutoX.ai and Pony.ai continue to operate “pilot programs in the United States with limited oversight.” Duncan raised questions to Sacks about “what types of information these companies collect that could pose a national security risk if shared with foreign adversaries that could exploit such information?” 

Sacks iterated that she would “push back” on Duncan’s concerns by zeroing in on a distinction between what kinds of data that these companies are collecting in degrees of sensitivity. “Are they collecting information about mapping and streets that’s any different from what you might find on” — wait for it — “Google Maps? That’s available openly. So, there’s different kinds of data.” She argued that the question on the varieties of accessible data and who has access to it should be applied to all companies and not a particular country of origin (like China) because certain complaints could just be involving “data [that] might be openly available on the commercial market in other forms.” What about the personal and sensitive taxpayer data reportedly collected by Facebook?

Big Tech critic Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) wrote in his book Crushed (2023) that “Google collects data about you. So does Facebook. So does Apple. For all their hand wringing about privacy protections and data privacy, these companies use that data to optimize many things.” Would liberal Big Tech companies like Google have access to the treasure trove of data made available by AVs? Amazon, too. It is also involved in the autonomous vehicle push through its subsidiary Zoox.

Duncan made a statement for the record about Uber’s enormous access to data. He said he wasn’t “concerned” about it but that it reflected the concerns of Americans writ large:

Uber already has — if I use an Uber to go to Walmart, they know how many times I went to Walmart or that I eat fast food. Who collects that information, how it’s shared with others about my traveling habits, my shopping habits, my eating habits? And I think that’s a concern of many Americans who [wonder] what AVs will collect as you travel around.” 

As mentioned before, Google and its parent company Alphabet are also actively involved in the autonomous vehicle industry. “In 2009, Google started the self-driving car project with the goal of driving autonomously over ten uninterrupted 100-mile routes,” according to Investopedia. That project evolved into Google’s sibling company called Waymo. “In 2016, Waymo, an autonomous driving technology company, became a subsidiary of Alphabet, and Google’s self-driving project became Waymo,” Investopedia wrote. Investopedia also dubbed Waymo the “leader in self-driving technology.” Farrah’s AVIA actively promoted Google’s Waymo under its “Research” page on its website. [Emphasis added.]

Psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein told MRC Free Speech America in 2018 that Google uses its Gmail tool to compile information upwards of 3 million pages per user, and said, “The more they know about you, the easier it is for them to manipulate you without your awareness.” It’s chilling to think that the explosion of new AI and AV data on the transportation scene could potentially be manipulated in an even more dangerous way. 

As Walberg noted in his questioning to witness and R Street’s Pugh, “How can we secure our networks if the smart devices we rely on are compromised by design?” Pugh responded, “You’re right,” but he still appeared to place trust in liberal U.S. tech companies (like Google) to properly handle people’s data despite glaring evidence to the contrary:

I have more faith in American companies to do privacy and security-enhancing things than I do with a CCP-backed company.

Conservatives are under attack. Contact your representatives and demand answers on the kind of data liberal Big Tech platforms like Google and Amazon will have access to through autonomous vehicle push.

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