Coverage: Google’s CEO is grilled by Congress
Republican lawmakers displayed the party’s growing distrust toward Google, raising a broad array of tough questions to CEO Sundar Pichai on the search giant’s market power, plans to relaunch service in China, and whether the site suppresses conservative content.
Disauke Wakabayashi and Cecilia Kang of The New York Times had the news:
At the core of their questions was a concern over the company’s commitment to free expression.
“All of these topics — competition, censorship, bias and others — point to one fundamental question that demands the nation’s attention,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader. “Are America’s technology companies serving as instruments of freedom or instruments of control?”
“Because a free world depends on a free internet, we need to know that Google is on the side of the free world,” Mr. McCarthy said.
Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, highlighted the importance of scrutinizing Google because of the company’s market power in search, cloud-based email and its Android mobile operating system.
Issie Lapowsky of Wired called the hearing an missed opportunity:
Over the course of three and a half hours, the members of the committee staked out opposite sides of a partisan battle over whether Google search and other products are biased against conservatives. Republican members largely criticized the company for burying conservative websites in search results and amplifying criticism of conservative policies—accusations that Google has repeatedly denied. Democrats only poured fuel on the fire by spending their allotted five minutes helping Pichai shoot down those trumped-up claims, which are hard to prove either way thanks to the company’s black box algorithms. The rhetorical tennis match left precious little time for committee members to explore in any detail the urgent questions around Google’s interest in building a censored search engine for China, the company’s bulk data collection practices, its recent security breaches, or issues related to competition and antitrust regulation.
Like earlier House hearings with tech leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, the day proved heavy on theatrics and light on substance—complete with audience appearances by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Roger Stone, the conservative provocateur who now finds himself at the center of the Russia probe.
The hearing was more than a missed opportunity for both lawmakers and members of the public. It was a foreboding reminder of Congress’s continued technological ignorance, and a sign that while lawmakers almost unilaterally agree that something must be done about tech giants’ tremendous power, they remain unwilling to set aside partisan squabbles to actually do anything about it.
Nick Bastone of Business Insider reported that more than 100 employees at Google have been involved in developing a censored search product for users in China:
Pichai, who sat for several hours of broad questioning by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, was grilled about the company’s China plans. The Google CEO sidestepped many of the questions by repeating that “right now, there are no plans to launch a search service in China.”
But the repeated, and increasingly specific, questions eventually forced Pichai to divulge some details about the internal workings of the censored search project, known as Dragonfly.
“We have explored what search could look like if it were to be launched in a country like China, that’s what we explored,” Pichai said at one point.