Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai played the patriotism card as part of his opening remarks at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that started in Washington just moments ago. "As an American company, we cherish the values and freedoms that have allowed us to grow and serve so many users," Mr. Pichai said in a prepared statement in front of the Republican-controlled panel. The 46-year-old vowed Google will continue collaborating with the United States government on projects meant to keep Americans safe and secure, reflecting on some of the recent criticism the company attracted over its decision to stop working with the Pentagon on the controversial Project Maven initiative. Mr. Pichai used his Tuesday monologue as an opportunity to once again voice support for federal-level legislation regulating data privacy, reminding U.S. Representatives that Alphabet's subsidiary already proposed a framework for the thereof earlier this year. He also denied political bias allegations that have been following Google for years now, having recently been reiterated by President Donald Trump himself. This is the final opportunity for the Republican committee to grill a top Google official on the matter as the current House roster is set to be replaced with a Democratic majority in January.
Google in support of information freedom - except in China's case
Mr. Pichai's decision to focus on a patriotic sentiment in the opening moments of what's widely expected to be a grilling undertaken by the outgoing Republican committee is at least in part meant to deflect from the fact that as Google's willingness to work on military technologies with Washington is waning, the firm is simultaneously pursuing new business opportunities in China. "It’s no coincidence that a company dedicated to the free flow of information was founded right here in the U.S.," the industry veteran remarked. However, the company continues to work on Project Dragonfly, a large-scale effort aiming to return Google Search to China in a manner that would have the service comply with Beijing's strict censorship laws. Among other things, the solution that's said to have been prototyped in the form of a mobile app for Android and iOS devices censors terms such as "student protests," "Nobel prize winner," and "human rights."
Mr. Pichai did not directly reference Project Dragonfly during his opening remarks, though he's bound to field questions on the thereof during today's hearing. His public commentary on the matter up until this point was largely evasive and focused on the fact the said effort has yet to be greenlit for commercialization, something one later report argued is a complete fabrication. The Mountain View, California-based tech giant is now understood to be ready to launch the service as early as spring, eight years after it originally pulled Search from the Far Eastern country, citing its unwillingness to cooperate with the ruling communist regime on censoring information. Google's 2010 exit allowed Baidu to rise to prominence and establish itself as by far the most dominant Internet Search engine in China. The near-monopoly status of the Beijing-based company is unlikely to be broken anytime soon, regardless of whether Google actually relaunches its Search solution in the country.
Google denies left-leaning bias even after proven political activity
Besides denying left-leaning bias in his opening remarks, Mr. Pichai also reiterated the same sentiment while answering questions from lawmakers, particularly Republicans who kept presenting the CEO with anecdotal evidence of the thereof. Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot criticized the company for the negative coverage of the American Health Care Act of 2017 promoted by Google Search. According to the 65-year-old politician, Google's late 2017 coverage of the legislative initiative intended to replace the so-called Obamacare was entirely negative and he had to go through three to four pages of Search results before finding any sources reporting on the matter that were neutral or positive in their efforts to do so. Mr. Pichai remained adamant no inherent bias is present in Search or any other product from Google, insisting all of its solutions have been designed to be as neutral as possible and simply deliver results users want to see.
That philosophy is also what made the image aspect of the service return dozens of images of U.S. President Donald Trump when queried for the term "idiot," which was another line of inquiry pursued by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) during the hearing. During her five minutes with Mr. Pichai, the veteran politician concluded Google Search shows no inherent signs of bias seeing how it's largely influenced by how its users perceive a variety of topics, suggesting that if the solution associates images of the U.S. President with the term "idiot," that's precisely what the majority of the public wants to see. She concluded that the incoming Democratic House looks forward to continued collaboration with Google on a range of other, more important topics.
An exercise in futility
The hearing in general was expectedly largely politicized and yielded little new information about the manner in which Google operates and approaches important issues such as data privacy and fake news. In regards to the latter, Mr. Pichai denied the allegation that the company's services were abused by Russian operatives on a large scale with the goal of affecting the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, saying all suspicious accounts it identified spent under $5,000 in total in the run-up to the race, meaning any impact they had on the U.S. democratic process was limited at best.
The happening hence strongly resembled another congressional hearing from earlier this year where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ended as the star witness, answering questions on the firm's Cambridge Analytica scandal. Much like Facebook's co-founder, Mr. Pichai spent the better part of his four-hour hearing acknowledging the tech giant that employs him can and should do better but refused to admit any serious wrongdoing. In conclusion, the industry veteran repeated Google's stance on federal privacy regulation, describing it as a preferable alternative to state-level legislation. While political bias allegations against Google are unlikely to wane in the future, the level of official scrutiny they're under is expected to drop after the new Democratic House is sworn in this January.