Speculation hovering around the bias pertaining in the core of Google’s operation activities have been steered clear by CEO Sundar Pichai in his audacious encounter with the Congress party on Tuesday. Contemporaneously, Pichai also cleansed the air around the company’s privacy approach, data collection vis-à-vis stressing its American roots.
Pichai’s testimony was overshadowed by the memory of his empty chair from a September hearing he skipped. It caps a year filled with setbacks and stumbles that chilled relations between tech giants and Capitol Hill. “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.
Concerns about Google’s plans to re-enter China, codenamed “Dragonfly,” have upset some employees of company and members of Congress. Pichai has insisted the initiative is an experiment.
“Right now, we have no plans to launch in China,” Pichai said on Tuesday. “We don’t have a search product there. Our core mission is to provide information to users. Getting access to information is an important human right.” Google stopped providing its search engine in China in 2008 after the government demanded results be censored. But the world’s largest internet market is attractive to any global company, and a return could signal Google is prioritizing its business over human rights.
In several exchanges, Pichai described Dragonfly as an “internal effort” and said the number of employees working on it was “limited.” However, he declined to answer direct questions on whether Google staff have stopped working on the project or if he would commit to not launch a product that could be used as a surveillance tool by China.
“As an American company, we cherish the values and freedoms that have allowed us to grow and serve so many users,” Pichai said in opening remarks released by the committee on Monday. “I am proud to say we do work, and we will continue to work, with the government to keep our country safe and secure.”
He also reiterated Google’s support for a national privacy law, which could gain momentum next year, in part because diverse business groups have backed plans that would preempt California’s stringent new privacy law. Such a law would represent yet more regulation of the tech sector, after Google lost a battle earlier in the year to stop Congress from increasing internet platforms’ liability for online sex trafficking.
Pichai isn’t the first tech titan to undergo a grilling on Capital Hill. Two of his fellow CEO’s, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook Inc and Twitter’s Dorsey already endured hours of often-hostile testimony even as trade tensions, European antitrust probes and angry tweets from President Donald Trump accusing the social media companies of silencing conservatives rattled markets.