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Senators say Google’s Huawei smart speaker plan put ‘profits before country’

Three Republicans sent a letter to the company

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Three Republican senators want to hear more from Google after reports that the company was working on a Huawei-branded smart speaker. They are accusing the company of failing to take Americans’ privacy into account on the project.

The Information reported last month that the two companies were collaborating on a new product, but plans shuttered in May after the Trump administration imposed trade restrictions on Huawei. According to the report, the speaker would have been powered by Google Assistant and would respond to voice commands. The product was reportedly set for a September release and aimed at customers beyond China.

Now, senators with a history of sharply criticizing Google and Huawei are asking for more information about the planned collaboration. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who’s worked to position himself as a conservative critic of the tech industry, signed on to a letter with two fellow Republicans who have been some of the loudest voices denouncing Huawei, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Tom Cotton (R-AR).

The letter, addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, questions whether Google performed “due diligence” on the smart speaker and suggests Huawei could use the tool to spy on American households for the Chinese government. Huawei has denied that it has inappropriate ties to the government or that it would cooperate in espionage.

Among other questions, the senators ask whether Google considered potential national security risks in the partnership and whether the company would resume the project if trade restrictions were lifted. The letter also accuses Google of “putting profits before country” by working on the speaker.

“We have no smart speakers in development with Huawei and will always prioritize privacy and security,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

Google has been criticized on both the left and right for its work in China, most notably for planning a censored search engine in the country codenamed “Project Dragonfly.” The controversy has escalated to the White House as well. Yesterday, President Trump said he had met with Pichai and questioned whether Google was “involved with China’s military,” which the company has repeatedly denied.

The letter requests answers to the questions by August 30th.

Update, 6:11PM ET: Includes statement from Google spokesperson.