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 scheduled December 5 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, confirmed by three sources familiar with the plan but not authorised to speak on record, comes in response to some Republicans who claim that Google, like its tech peers, is biased against conservatives.
A spokesman for the panel’s GOP leader, Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Google also did not immediately respond.
Led by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Calif., GOP lawmakers long have blasted Google for allegedly silencing right-leaning news, views and users, and President Donald Trump similarly has claimed 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 McCarthy 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 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, of further concern are Google’s ambitions to build a special search engine in China that would meet the country’s strict censorship rules. 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.
Along with privacy, Goodlatte previously said in an interview with The Washington Post that he would raise “antitrust” 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.