By Victor Reklaitis, MarketWatch
Google CEO Sundar Pichai was forced to play defense Tuesday on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers questioned the search giant’s practices and its alleged political bias.
“It’s not possible for any employee or group of employees to manipulate our search results,” Pichai told lawmakers.
Pichai said his company uses a “robust methodology” to reflect what’s being said about a particular topic, adding that Google’s algorithms don’t have political notions.
But lawmakers repeatedly pushed back, with Rep. Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican, saying of Google’s employees: “Somebody out there is doing something that just isn’t working if you’re looking for unbiased results.”
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Roger Stone, a former adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, made an effort to crash Tuesday’s event on Capitol Hill, with Jones reportedly railing against Google’s “censorship .” Jones also appeared at a September hearing before lawmakers that featured Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -6.32% and Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -4.50% executives.
Pichai’s comments came at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, as the search giant’s CEO made his first-ever public appearance before Congress. Lawmakers and watchdog groups are increasingly scrutinizing Alphabet Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG -4.28% /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -4.29% Google and other tech heavyweights over how they handle their users’ data, as well as how they deal with misinformation and political bias, with the attention coming thanks to recent scandals and Big Tech’s growing power.
In Google’s case, it has been hit with news that its Google+ social network has exposed users’ data. It also has faced criticism for its alleged bias against conservatives, as well as its plans to return to the Chinese market and comply with Beijing’s censorship.
“Right now, there are no plans to launch search in China,” Pichai said when asked about that market.
There is potential for a privacy bill affecting tech companies in the new year, as measures that improve safeguards could get bipartisan support in upcoming months. Privacy-related moves are rated as “possible” by lobbyists at Hogan Lovells, in their recent report on what the 116th Congress is likely to deliver. Some senators have signaled they might unveil bipartisan data privacy legislation early in the new session.
If the U.S. government puts a new privacy law in place, it would follow the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation that took effect in May. Pichai on Tuesday described GDPR as a “well-thought-out” law, adding that there’s value for the U.S. in “aligning” with it “where we can.”
“I’m of the opinion that we’re better off with more of an overarching data-protection framework,” the executive said, when asked if there’s a need for a U.S. privacy law.
The EU regulation led the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other American newspapers to block European readers in May, citing ongoing work on “technical compliance solutions.”
Read more: 5 things to know about Europe’s data rules
Google has proposed an approach for U.S. privacy legislation , and it has given money to the House Judiciary Committee’s members.
The company’s framework is comprised of privacy practices that Google already abides by or could easily comply with, a recent ZDNet report said. The company’s political action committee’s donations include $10,000 to New York Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler in the most recent election cycle, another $10,000 to California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren and $5,000 to Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, according to OpenSecrets.org data .
“There are legitimate questions regarding the company’s policies and practices,” Nadler said as the hearing began. “But before we delve into these questions, I must first dispense with a completely illegitimate issue, which is the fantasy, dreamed up by some conservatives, that Google and other online platforms have an anti-conservative bias.”