Google CEO Sundar Pichai is heading to Congress to answer accusations his company censors conservatives, as well as respond to reports that the firm will create a censored search engine just for China.
While Pichai has travelled to Washington before to meet privately with Republican lawmakers, he received major criticism for failing to attend a previous public hearing. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg both spoke to Congress in September. There according to Bloomberg, “Senior executives from Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. sat before the senators next to an empty chair marked ‘Google.’” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) wondered publicly if Google didn’t show up “because they’re arrogant.”
Conservatives have criticized Google for following a biased agenda, whether via the search engine algorithm itself, distributing a pro-censorship memo, and trying to weaponize Latino votes in favor of the Democratic party in the 2016 election.
The Verge downplayed these concerns in favor of its own narrative about social media enabling fake news and election meddling,
Unlike previous hearings that have focussed on the very real concerns of foreign interference in US elections and preserving data privacy, the grounds for some of these latest accusations are much more spurious. At various points, President Trump has accused Google of suppressing positive news about his presidency without providing hard evidence, and not promoting his inaugural State of the Union address (it did).
TechCrunch referred to conservative claims of bias at Google as “unsubstantiated,” while The Washington Post claimed that no “significant evidence” has been provided. Evidence of bias at Google is well documented, however. A leaked post-election memo by Google’s Head of Multicultural Marketing Eliana Murillo revealed Google’s election-related efforts aided the Democrats. Coverage by Techwatch noted,
The explicitly anti-Trump nature of Murillo’s efforts at Google is also evident in that in the aftermath of the election, she indicated she decided not to email all the members of Google’s Hispanic employees organization, known as HOLA, "because we know that apparently some may actually be Trump supporters.”
Similarly, conservatives slammed Google’s “Good Censor” memo for its support for censorship as a positive tool for establishing a more progressive society.
On the other hand, Google’s partnership with China and its Firefly search engine have received much more bipartisan outrage, including from employees like Jack Poulson who left the company in disgust.This search engine is specifically designed for the Chinese market, on the condition that it gives private information to the Chinese communist government, even going so far as to connect searches with phone numbers to identify dissidents. Pichai, much to the chagrin of his peers and employees has defended this by stating he is merely “complying with the law.”