Google CEO spars with lawmakers on bias, privacy

WASHINGTON DC- MARCH 29  U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, Rep. Jamie Raskin and Rep. Pramila Jayapal participate in a markup hearing before the House Judiciary Committee

CEO Sundar Pichai says Google has 'checks and balances' against bias

Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies before the House Judiciary Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building, in Washington, D.C., on December 11.

Questions on privacy, data collection, China, Russia -and especially political bias - dominated Mountain View-based Google CEO Sundar Pichai's grilling before Congress Tuesday.

Google's chief executive has explained to a U.S. congressional hearing why searching for the term "idiot" on Google Images returns pictures of Donald Trump while giving evidence to Congress.

"I searched for Congressman Steve Scalise", the Democrat said. "How would that happen? How does search work so that that would occur?"

"So it's not some little man sitting behind the curtain figuring out what we're going to show the users?" Democratic representative Zoe Lofgren asked. "It's basically a compilation of what users are generating, and trying to sort through that information?"

Donald Trump comes up in Google Images when you search the term "idiot". Pichai said that absent any change in the user's settings data will be retained indefinitely. None was more hard than a question asked by Iowa Rep. Steve King, however, whose question was literally impossible for Pichai to answer.

Pichai said the search engine attempts to help people register to vote or find a polling place, but rejected assertions that the company paid for Latino voters' transportation to polls in some states. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) also defended the corporate giant by claiming that anti-conservative bias questions are a waste of time because Google has "corporate free speech rights" that the government can not infringe.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, ranking Democrat on the committee, called the charges "a completely illegitimate issue, which is the fantasy, dreamed up by some conservatives, that Google and other online platforms have an anti-conservative bias".

Pichai's testimony was overshadowed by the memory of his empty chair from a September hearing he skipped.

"It was necessary to convene this hearing because of the widening gap of distrust between technology companies and the American people", House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, citing China, antitrust and anti-conservative bias as concerns.

Goodlatte said Congress did not get all the answers it wanted from Pichai, but he agreed to provide further information.

Asked for yes-or-no answers on what information the company collects, Mr Pichai demurred and attempted to convey that things are more complicated, with varying degrees of success.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), for instance, asked Pichai to explain why "96 percent of the references to Trump are from liberal media?"

"Just by bumping undesirable stuff to the second page of search, Google can more or less make it disappear", he continued.

A grilling of Google CEO saw the word "idiot" being searched for more than one million times.

In the hallway outside of the hearing, a group of attendees held up banners of the Google logo altered into China's national flag and handcuffs in protest of Google's alleged launch of a censored search engine in China.

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