Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Switch

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai set to testify to Congress in December

November 28, 2018 at 4:28 PM

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at the Google I/O conference May 8 in Mountain View, Calif. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai is set to testify to Congress in December, facing off against lawmakers for the first time at a hearing that could subject the search giant to the same harsh political spotlight that has faced its tech peers all year.

The hearing is scheduled for Dec. 5 before the House Judiciary Committee, according to three people familiar with the plan but not authorized to speak on the record, and comes in response to some Republicans who claim that Google is biased against conservatives.

The panel’s GOP leader, Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, confirmed the hearing on Wednesday. In a statement, he expressed his fear that tech platforms — while vastly useful to Americans — can “be used to suppress particular viewpoints and manipulate public opinion.”

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

GOP lawmakers long have blasted Google for allegedly silencing right-leaning news, views and users, and President Trump similarly has claimed that the company promotes negative stories about his administration. Neither has provided significant evidence that Google is biased, however, and Google has vehemently denied the accusations.

But lingering suspicions about the inner workings of Google’s powerful search algorithms still prompted House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) to request Pichai’s testimony to Congress during their meeting on Capitol Hill in September — and Pichai agreed.

“There’s a lot of interest in their algorithm, how those algorithms work, how those algorithms are supervised,” Goodlatte, the outgoing chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said during an interview at the time.

For Pichai, the hearing threatens to be a long wide-ranging review of Google’s business practices at a perilous political moment for the tech giant. Its closest peers, Facebook and Twitter, previously dispatched their top executives to address lawmakers' questions — a session in the Senate in September that Pichai and Larry Page, the leader of Google parent Alphabet, opted at the time to skip. That decision left Democrats and Republicans around the Capitol frustrated and spoiling for a fight.

Since then, Google has faced immense criticism for its handling of a bug that may have exposed the personal data of hundreds of thousands of its users on Google+, its social network. The company discovered the incident in March but only revealed it in October.

For others, Google’s ambitions to build a special search engine in China that would meet the country’s strict censorship rules raise concerns. Still more Republicans have questioned Google’s decision to cease working with the Pentagon on a key artificial intelligence program, a decision that the company made in response to its employees' criticisms.

Goodlatte previously said in an interview with The Washington Post that he would raise “antitrust” as well as privacy issues. In Europe, Google faces continued scrutiny for its corporate footprint, and some in the United States — including the president — have suggested the need to explore whether Google threatens competitors.


Tony Romm is a technology policy reporter at The Washington Post. He has spent more than eight years covering the ways that tech companies like Apple, Facebook and Google navigate the corridors of government -- and the regulations that sometimes result.

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