Technology

Google boss Sundar Pichai fends off claims of political bias

The chief executive faced a grilling about its usage of people's data and its work with China.

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai has refuted claims that the company’s search results are politically biased, in response to intense questions from a US committee.

Concerns ranging from the usage of people’s data, to a launch of a search engine in China, were raised in the grilling held by the US House Judiciary Committee.

Mr Pichai told US lawmakers that employees are not able to influence the results it shows users, amid accusations from some Republican voices, including US President Donald Trump, who has previously accused Google of providing “rigged” search results with negative news about himself and fellow Republicans.

Google
(Yui Mok/PA)

“It is not possible for an individual employee to manipulate our search results,” Mr Pichai told Congressman Lamar Smith.

The Google boss was asked why images of President Trump appear at the top of Google Images when you search the word “idiot”, in a bid to understand how its search algorithms work.

Speaking about bias accusations later in the hearing, Congressman Ted Lieu said: “If you want positive search results, do positive things. If you don’t want negative search results, don’t do negative things.”

Mr Pichai, who has been at the helm of Google for three of his 15-year career with the company, also argued that it had “no plans” for a censored version of its search engine for China, but admitted up to one hundred people at Google were working on the idea.

“We have developed and explored what search could look like if we launched in a country like China,” he said.

“We have had the project under way for a while, and there have been other projects we have undertaken and never launched them too.”

Scrutinised about its handling of people’s data, Mr Pichai repeated multiple times that users have the choice over how much data they share and said that 20 million people a day adjust their settings themselves.

Bob Goodlatte
Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the US House Judiciary Committee (Judiciary Committee/PA)

“It’s an area we want to do better, as a company that has grown a lot it’s a complicated matter,” he continued.

In September, Google failed to send Larry Page, chief executive of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, to a US Senate intelligence committee looking into election meddling.

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey attended the hearing, but an empty chair for Google was left after the committee rejected an offer to receive a lower-ranking executive instead.

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