Washington DEC 12: Lawmakers bombarded Google CEO Sundar Pichai with a broad range of questions when he testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.
This was Pichai's first time in front of Congress and culminates a tough year for big tech companies, including Google.
He received questions about political bias, Chinese censorship and data privacy.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai defended the company’s data collection practices and insisted that the company’s algorithms in its search results were absent of political bias considerations.
Pichai told lawmakers that, he was a “technology optimist … because I believe in people and their ability to use technology to improve their lives”.
Another topic that came up multiple times was Google's plan to launch a censored search engine in China. The Intercept first reported details of the project over the summer, which would block search results for queries that the Chinese government deemed sensitive, like "human rights" and "student protest" and link users' searches to their personal phone numbers.
One of the first specific questions about Google's plans in China came from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who expressed concern that Google would aid in the oppression of Chinese people "looking for a lifeline of freedom and democracy."
"Right now, we have no plans to launch search in China," Pichai answered, adding that access to information is "an important human right."
Pichai has said, “In the past that Google is "not close" to launching a censored search result in China, though Tuesday's comments appear to further distance the company from those efforts.
The Intercept reported in September that, at one-point Google employees working on the "Project Dragonfly" efforts were told to get it in "launch-ready state" to roll out upon approval from Beijing officials.
Pichai would not, however, go so far as to commit not to launch "a tool for surveillance and censorship in China”.
"We always think it's in our duty to explore possibilities to give users access to information," Pichai said.
Human rights groups and Google's own employees have spoken out publicly about this issue, with more than 730 recently signing an open letter calling on the company to cancel its efforts, and lawmakers at Tuesday's hearing made it clear that they, too, are extremely wary of any plans by Google to work with China's oppressive regime.