Google CEO Faces Tough Questions from House Lawmakers

Chief Executive Sundar Pichai took questions about privacy, censorship and work with the U.S. and Chinese governments during a Tuesday morning Judiciary Committee hearing.

by Sam Dean, Los Angeles Times / December 11, 2018
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(TNS) — Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai is appearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning to discuss privacy concerns and purported political bias in the company’s search results. Lawmakers may also take time to question him about Google’s controversial plans to create a customized search engine for China — one that’s intentionally biased, and censored, to Communist Party specifications.

Pichai’s opening testimony, published Monday, ran through the topics expected of a tech executive in the Capitol Hill hot seat.

He opened with a paean to information and technology as forces for good, recalling growing up in India and the thrill of his family’s first television set. Then he underlined Google’s sweeping ambition — “to provide users with access to the world’s information” — making sure to mention that its cofounders hail from the United States.

He expanded on the patriotic theme, saying, “Even as we expand into new markets we never forget our American roots,” and underlined the fact that the company does work with the government, despite its decision in October, following pressure from its employees, to withdraw from the bidding process for a $10-billion Defense Department contract for cloud computing services.

Then he got to the refrain: Google cares about privacy and supports federal privacy legislation.

The unit of Alphabet Inc. revealed Monday that a data vulnerability left the profile information of 52.5 million users of its Google+ social network exposed to potential theft. In a statement, Google said there is no evidence the vulnerability was exploited.

California passed privacy regulations in June that are set to go into effect in 2020. Under those rules, Californians have the right to know what personal information companies are collecting and with whom the companies are sharing that information. Google is proposing federal legislation — which fellow data brokers such as Facebook, AT&T and Amazon are also lobbying for in Washington — that would nullify California’s regulations and replace them with weaker consumer protections.

On the question of bias, Pichai cited Google’s diverse workforce — including veterans, civil libertarians, parents and immigrants — as proof of its ideological diversity. “I lead this company without political bias,” he said, “and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way.”

The allegation that Google search results were politically biased against the right began on the self-professed right-wing blog PJ Media. A writer searched for “Trump” in Google’s News section and sorted the first 100 results by source, using a media-bias chart that placed libertarian website Reason.com in the center of the spectrum and, in a bit of circular logic, Google off to the left. Five of the articles were from Fox News or the Wall Street Journal, with the rest coming from other mainstream news sources.

The resulting story, “96 Percent of Google Search Results for 'Trump' News Are from Liberal Media Outlets,” was mentioned on Fox News. President Trump included the number in a tweet, adding that “Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good.”

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