Google’s Pichai Faces Privacy and Bias Questions in Congress

Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, went through a grilling of questions on Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee for more than three hours regarding search result bias, the data it collects about its users and its plans for a censored service in China not to mention the concerns of lawmakers about Google’s unfair treatment of conservatives and particularly privacy issues.

Pichai is an engineer who worked his way up the ladder at Google and became its leader three years ago. Google first came under scrutiny in Europe and was fined by regulators there.

“Mr. Pichai, it was necessary to convene this hearing because of the widening gap of distrust between Silicon Valley and the American people,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican House majority leader. He is not a member of the Judiciary Committee but made a point of attending the hearing.

Congressional lawmakers are concerned about the power of big internet companies and are concerned that internet companies, whether intentionally or not, allow their liberal biases to influence how users receive information on the internet.

Mr. Pichai testified that Google search results are not fixed against conservatives, to which academics and industry insiders concur.

Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee wanted to know if Google’s employees, contrary to the company’s claims of political neutrality, were making decisions to filter search results.

“This committee is very interested in what justifies filtering,” Mr. Goodlatte said. “Given the revelation that top executives at Google have discussed how the results of the 2016 elections do not comply with Google’s values, these questions have become all the more important.”

Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas, pushed Mr. Pichai to allow outside investigators to audit Google’s search technology for indications of bias to curtail its potential of strongly influencing the election of the next president.

Mr. Pichai countered that Google’s “algorithms have no notion of political sentiment.”

“There are legitimate questions regarding the company’s policies and practices, with respect to content moderation and the protection of user data privacy,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York.

They also questioned Pichai on tracking a users whereabouts and whether Googles does so without consent, citing an article in The New York Times last Monday about the ease with which anonymous information can be inked to a person.

Mr. Pichai tried to sidestep the question, said that “users have control over whether they are tracked or not and tracking information was not sold by Google.”

Mr. Pichai also testified that his company along with other internet companies would welcome federal privacy law such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulations which he says is “a well-crafted piece of legislation.”

As to whether Google plans to re-enter the Chinese market with a search engine that censored information banned by the Chinese government, he said that they have no current plans to do so.