Google CEO Sundar Pichai will have a few more days to prepare for his appearance before the House Judiciary Committee facing questions about alleged liberal bias, the legislative body has now confirmed. The original hearing had been set to take place on December 5 but has been cleared off of the docket to make way for the state funeral of former President George H. W. Bush. The funeral will be held at the National Cathedral in Washington on December 5, which has been set aside as a national day of mourning. The current expectation is that Mr. Pichai's appearance before the committee will be pushed into the following week.
Background: Several topics were and are expected to be covered at the hearing once the committee has re-set the schedule for Mr. Pichai to appear. Most prominent among those are expected to be questions regarding whether or not Google has been allowing a 'liberal bias' to enter into its policies or consumer products. Policymakers have previously indicated that they are concerned by how much sway Google holds in terms of search, site discovery, and media as well as overall reach. In particular, the allegation has been made that the search giant is suppressing world views in a bid to drive public opinion away from the right-side of the political aisle. President Donald Trump is among those who have openly questioned whether or not conservative voices are being silenced or suppressed by the company. Those types of inquiries have typically been avoided by previous CEOs despite repeatedly being put forward by conservatives over the course of the last several years.
Secondary to issues about possible bias against oppression against rightwing ideals and content, the company is also expected to answer questions about its arguably more controversial 'Project Dragonfly'. The project consists primarily of a new China-specific variant of the Google Search engine that has repeatedly cropped up in recent months with backlash across both sides of the political spectrum. Project Dragonfly would essentially be a heavily censored and intensely monitored version of Google's most lucrative and well-known product. That it would allow oversight — as well as likely enabling further oppression — by the Chinese government and has been largely kept from public view has stirred up plenty of controversies. That's in addition to reports about the company's attempts to keep it secret with Google going so far as to suppress its own employees over the matter and ignore employee feedback.
Moreover, the committee will have queries pertaining to the search giant's cancelation of a deal between itself and the US military. That project was referred to as Project Maven and involved cooperation on the use of AI for military applications and was ended amidst a backlash from Google employees. However, that cancellation also happened to coincide with the revelations about Project Dragonfly, which could lead to serious scrutiny. Questions are expected to follow with regard to corporate transparency as well. Finally, the House Judiciary Committee will almost certainly grill the CEO about his company's general avoidance of hearings that it has been requested at in the past. The company has repeatedly opted to refuse to make appearances, most recently missing a Senate hearing on security during elections which saw the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee symbolically leave an empty chair for Google during the hearing. Executives from both Facebook and Twitter were in attendance for that session.
Impact: Although the expectation is that Google will make an appearance before the committee as early as next week, no date has actually been scheduled yet. Regardless, the session is likely to run for some time due to Google's decision to not appear at previous hearings. Some subjects raised or expected to be raised at those prior sessions are no longer necessarily pertinent. However, the panel may still be interested in attaining answers to those and to plenty of other questions that were prepared for those hearings.