Google rules out a Chinese search engine

Google speaks during a conversation as part of the annual meeting of the World Economi
Google speaks during a conversation as part of the annual meeting of the World Economi
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13 December, 2018

The hearing on Google's "data collection, use and filtering practices" offered an opportunity for lawmakers to confront the CEO over claims that the internet giant skews its search results for political reasons.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, tried to pin down Pichai concretely on privacy.

Pichai said the company was "happy to engage" to discuss legislation. "A significant portion of this hearing was a waste of time".

Google had previously declined to make Pichai available for a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, even though Dorsey and Facebook (FB) COO Sheryl Sandberg did attend, leading to the empty chair in Pichai's place. Nadler says Tuesday's hearing is the House Judiciary Committee's fourth one to address political bias.

Congress barely scratched the surface on any of that. "How do you explain this apparent bias on Google's part against conservative points of view, against conservative policies?" Outside observers thought so, too.

"Instead of really getting to the nuts and bolts, they used this highly rare opportunity to focus on highly partisan issues that don't get to the bottom of the problem, which is Google's overall business model", said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

"Users also look to us to provide accurate, trusted information", he said.

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Pichai said Google "takes privacy seriously" and notified users when it learned of the data breach.

Google ran a censored version of its search engine in China from 2006 to 2010, but exited after the company said a cyber attack originating from China had targeted Google email accounts of dozens of Chinese human-rights activists.

Google has good reason to communicate with lawmakers and policymakers, and to seek to weigh in on thorny issues. Rothfus asked Pichai how many months the company had been working to develop the censored search engine and how many employees were involved. That's notable because it's the most detail the company has gone into regarding the project's size.

"One of the things that's important to us as a company - we have a stated mission of providing users with information", Pichai said.

"We're long past that high water mark of Silicon Valley's belief that they can solve these problems on their own or ignore the public pressure, " said Danny O'Brien, global director with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group.

And he struck the obligatory patriotic note: "I've had the opportunity to travel across the country and see all the places that are powering our digital economy - from Clarksville, to Pittsburgh, to San Diego, where we recently launched a partnership with the USO to help veterans and military families.Over the past three [years], we have made direct contributions of $150 billion to the United States economy, added more than 24,000 employees, and paid over $43 billion to United States partners across Search, YouTube, and Android". He says lawmakers should instead examine issues such as the spread of misinformation and Russia's efforts to influence US elections online.

"They're going to talk about me in this committee, I will be talked about - so what am I supposed to do?" But Congress takes its sweet time to reach a conclusion on everything it considers.

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