Questioning Google CEO Sundar Pichai for the first time, House lawmakers could have hammered on any number of controversies. The company’s plans for China, Google+ data breaches, and whether tech giants need to be more closely regulated all might have taken center stage.
But while lawmakers brought up all of those issues this morning at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, the Pichai hearing was dominated by allegations of bias against conservatives, as Democrats struggled to counter the narrative while introducing new questions. “We need to be sure that any political bias within Google’s workforce does not creep into its workforce,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said in an opening statement. Minutes later, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) was calling the idea “entirely fictitious” — a “fantasy dreamed up by some conservatives.”
Most Republican lawmakers on the committee confronted Pichai about bias in some way. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) pointedly asked Pichai, citing a questionable report on news search results, about “the muting of conservative voices,” and questioned whether employees were manipulating results. “It’s not possible for an individual employee or group of employees to manipulate our search results,” Pichai said. Smith responded, “I disagree.”
Often, the questions revolved around search result anecdotes, as Pichai sought to explain why the word “idiot” brought up images of President Trump, and why a lawmaker was seeing negative results for news. “If you want positive search results, do positive things,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) replied.
The only issue that received similar time during the hearing was data collection, and specifically questions about when and where Google collects location information. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) explicitly questioned whether Google was tracking the location of his iPhone, and was frustrated when Pichai said he would need to look at his phone first. Democratic members also expressed interest in how Google deals with location data, referencing A 纽约时报 调查 published earlier in the week.
Concerns over location data are particularly relevant as some in Congress look to pass a uniform data privacy law along the lines of Europe’s GDPR. At today’s hearing, representatives questioned what such a bill should look like, although many expressed trepidation in stepping in to regulate Google.
Lawmakers gave relatively short shrift to other issues. Despite the appearance of a protestor dressed as the Monopoly man, there were only a few questions related to Google’s market power, or about the company’s moderation practices. Only one lawmaker, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) brought up the company’s forced arbitration policy, an issue that has caused protests from Google workers.
Notably, despite major scrutiny from the press and Google employees, there were also only a handful of questions about Google’s plans to build a censored search engine in China. While some lawmakers brought up the company’s plan, codenamed Project Dragonfly, Pichai largely deflected the questions, arguing that the company’s work on a censored Chinese search engine was only exploratory, and that there were no current plans for a launch. 拦截 has reported that Google held extensive discussions about launching in a matter of months.
Responding to questions about the project, Pichai said “it’s our duty to explore” providing wider access to information, and would not rule out launching the censored search engine in the future. “We will be very thoughtful and we will engage widely as we make progress,” he said.