‘This process…turns much more sinister with allegations that Google manipulates its algorithm to favor the political party it likes…’
(Kaylee McGhee, Liberty Headlines) Lawmakers grilled Google CEO Sundar Pichai during his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, asking him about political bias on his platform and Google’s decision to provide a censored search app in China.
Congress asked Pichai to testify earlier this year in a Senate hearing on foreign election meddling, but Google declined to send him. This decision provoked criticism from several senators who felt Google was trying to avoid important questions.
Google is one of several big tech companies that have come under increased scrutiny for alleged censorship of conservative content and mishandling of data privacy.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said this bias is especially apparent in Google’s algorithm, which filters users’ search results. It ranks pages based on what’s most relevant to the search inquiry, but it still allows Google to favor one page over another, Goodlatte said.
“This kind of bias appears harmless,” Goodlatte said in his opening statement. “After all, the point of a search is to discriminate among multiple relevant sources to find the best answer. This process, however, turns much more sinister with allegations that Google manipulates its algorithm to favor the political party it likes, the ideas that it likes, or the products it likes.”
In his prepared statement, Pichai dismissed allegations of political bias and ensured lawmakers that Google is not a company trying to advance a certain narrative.
“I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way,” Pichai said. “To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests. We are a company that provides platforms for diverse perspectives and opinions — and we have no shortage of them among our own employees.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) dismissed Pichai’s answer as either dishonest or ignorant.
“For you to come in here and say, ‘There is no political bias in Google’ tells us you either are being dishonest — I don’t want to think that — or you don’t have a clue how politically biased Google is,” Gohmert said.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) responded to Republican lawmakers by calling their queries into conservative censorship “wasted time,” considering Google is a private, profitable company protected by the First Amendment. Even if it did have a bias, Lieu said Google would have that right. Regardless, Lieu said Google’s search results show positive results about Republicans and negative results about Democrats, and vice versa.
“If you want positive searches, do positive things,” Lieu said. “If you get bad press, don’t blame Google. Consider blaming yourself.”
Google’s lack of transparency in regards to how its platform surfaces search results has opened it up to a wide variety of criticism, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said this is a problem Google needs to solve.
“Google has great influence over what millions of people can and cannot find on the Internet,” McCarty said in his opening statement. “That power comes with a responsibility to its users.”
Lawmakers also questioned Pichai about Google’s plan to launch a censored search app in China, which will essentially allow the Chinese government to censor its citizens’ access to information.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tx.) expressed concern that Google would be directly aiding China’s oppression of people who are “looking for a lifeline of freedom and democracy.”
Pichai responded: “Right now, we have no plans to launch search in China,” adding that access to information is “an important human right.”
Pichai’s dismissal contests earlier reports that Google is getting the program, dubbed “Project Dragonfly,” into a “launch-ready state” so it can be sent to Beijing officials for approval. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) asked Pichai if he would commit not to launch “a tool for surveillance and censorship in China,” but he would not do so.
“We always think it’s in our duty to explore possibilities to give users access to information,” Pichai responded.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) leads a bipartisan group of senators who have raised concern about Google’s “Project Dragonfly” plans, and urged Pichai in a letter not to become “bedfellows with the Chinese people’s oppressors, rather than with those who are oppressed.”
“It appears that Google leadership has evaded for months critical and legitimate questions about the implications of its Dragonfly search engine plans for human rights and human lives in China, even despite the growth of withering criticism from your own employees who worry that Google will compromise core values to do business in that country,” Rubio said in the letter. “While the lure of China’s 1.4-billion-person market is strong, I hope that your commitment to Google’s stated values and founding ideals is even stronger.”
The entire hearing can be watched below: