Taking flak from both parties in his first testimony on Capitol Hill, the head of Google denied charges from Republican lawmakers that his company produces politically biased search results, and tussled with other lawmakers worried about the amount of location data taken in by Google from consumers when using the company’s apps and search engine.
GOP lawmakers said too often a simple search about a Republican legislative initiative brings back nothing which would be considered non-partisan.
“Article after article opposing the Republican tax cut,” complained Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), as he joined a series of GOP lawmakers in saying that Google was clearly placing its thumb on the political scale in terms of what comes back in searches.
But the Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, repeatedly denied that Google was doing anything intentionally.
“I lead this company without political bias; we work to insure that our products continue to operate that way,” Pichai said. “To do otherwise would be against our core principles and business interests.”
The complaints on what came up on search results was not limited just to Republicans, as Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) said that when he did a news search on his name, what popped up was mainly conservative news sites.
“It looks like you are overly using conservative news organizations on your news,” Cohen complained. “I’d like you to look into that.”
On the issue of privacy, Pichai again faced bipartisan concern, as lawmakers expressed some befuddlement at how much information Google takes from users – especially location information – making the case that it is difficult for the average consumer to turn off those functions, to preserve their privacy.
“When it comes to data collection, can you commit to improve the dashboard transparency and tools on how to protect privacy?” pressed Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).
“It’s an area we want to do better,” Pichai said, explaining that Google needs to ‘simplify’ those dashboards for consumers.
“Does Google track my movement? It’s either yes or no,” said Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX). “It’s not a trick question,” as Poe dug into one of the basic issues – should consumers be forced to opt in or opt out – when it comes to Google platforms and consumer information.