Google CEO Sundar Pichai Faces House Judiciary Committee

At a hearing at the House Judiciary Committee, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai faced tough questions about how his company handles data privacy and disinformation by foreign actors. Republicans on the Committee also grilled him about a perceived anti-conservative bias, which Pichai staunchly denied, saying Google uses a “robust methodology” on all topics “without regards to political ideology.” Unconvinced, these lawmakers pointed to videos and emails from Google executives expressing dislike of right-leaning ideas.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) accused Pichai either of “being dishonest … or you don’t have a clue how politically biased Google is.” Pichai responded by showing how its search engine “frequently displays negative news stories about its own company,” also pointing out that, “in the past three years Google has made direct contributions of $150 billion to the U.S. economy and added more than 24,000 employees, many of them outside California, in places such as Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma and Alabama.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) stressed that his party is focused “on a ‘widening gap of distrust’ between Silicon Valley and the American people.” To undermine GOP claims, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) told them, “if you want positive search results, do positive things.”

Legislators also “raised concern about Google’s handling of user data, following the company’s disclosure on Monday of a privacy bug that exposed the personal data of 52.5 million users of the Google Plus social network,” marking “the second software glitch involving Google Plus user data this year.” Google, “like several other tech companies, supports federal privacy legislation as a way of mitigating the impact of restrictive new state privacy laws such as California’s.”

Pichai also fended off questions about “its plans to develop a search engine that would comply with China’s strict Internet censors.”

The New York Times reports that, “at the core of their questions was a concern over the company’s commitment to free expression,” with Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Virginia) highlighting “the importance of scrutinizing Google because of the company’s market power in search, cloud-based email and its Android mobile operating system,” as well as “concerns that the liberal-leaning political biases of employees may also affect filtering decisions for its search engine.”

But the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, scoffed at the “complete illegitimate fantasy dreamed up by some conservatives that Google and other platforms have anti-conservative bias.”

Goodlatte also expressed concern about “the frequency and amount of location data that Google collects from its Android operating system,” with Pichai responding that, “Google offers users controls for limiting location data collection and that it did not sell user data.” But he also “carefully avoided how the company uses such data in the practice of selling advertising.” Before the hearing, Google faced an organized walkout of 20,000 workers over how its harassment and discrimination policies. Those employees say they plan to “push for the end of mandatory arbitration in all cases and for all employees, including temporary and contract staff.”