Google is trying to plug a surge of public scrutiny around the world by overhauling how its policy office operates, with increased emphasis on having policy staffers and top company executives alike building relationships with governments, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Government officials in the United States, India, Ireland, Singapore, Australia and at least several other countries have threatened regulation or launched probes concerning Google’s user privacy practices, its policing of inappropriate videos and apps, and the potential abuse of its dominance in internet search and advertising.
The negative attention on Google’s power and its data collection practices could hurt its public image and force costly business changes.
Google’s global policy office had gone years without a major strategy shift until Karan Bhatia was hired last June from General Electric, where he also led government affairs and policy.
In his first year, he has added “government affairs” to his unit’s name before “public policy” to stress relationship building over whitepaper writing, overhauled reporting lines and begun to cut a roster of contract lobbyists, eight of the people said.
The moves aim to get Google’s separate units including cloud computing, consumer hardware and YouTube – along with each unit’s senior leaders – to take a bigger role in lobbying on issues affecting them and set the company up to uniformly challenge similar regulatory threats in different parts of the world, sources told Reuters.
In Washington, lawmakers long have raised concerns about Google’s executives not engaging enough to address their concerns or personally weigh in on policy discussions, according to lobbyists. The issue attracted attention last September when senators pointedly left an empty seat for Google at an intelligence committee hearing on election integrity after the company declined to send a top executive to testify, Reuters adds.
The empty-seat blunder, as Google’s Washington leadership eventually recognized it, and a string of policy defeats on issues such as copyright in Europe and censorship in Asia have given Bhatia a wide opening to bring changes, sources said.