Google CEO Pichai Goes On Defensive During Congressional Hearing

Lawmakers grilled Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Tuesday during the Congressional House hearing, questioning him on topics ranging from consumer data privacy to political bias. Pichai played defense on many of the topics.

The committee accused Google of using consumer data without their permission, as well as programming bias against conservative views into its algorithms. Pichai denied the allegations for both.

Jim Jordan, the Republican U.S. Representative for Ohio's 4th congressional district, hammered Pichai about an email sent by Eliana Murillo, head of Google’s multicultural marketing. Pichai praised her efforts.

In a four-page email recapping her work leading up to the 2016 election, Murillo described how Google pushed to get out the Latino vote by “supporting partners” that would pay for rides to the polls in key states, such as Florida.

“As Google, we would not participate in any partisan efforts around any civic process,” Pichai said, suggesting that perhaps employees took it upon themselves, rather than the company.

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Jordan didn’t have an issue with Google helping voters get to the poll, but did take offense with the words “in key states” based on possible bias. The free ride service supported Latino voters in key states.  

The political bias ran the gamut. Republican committee member Lamar Smith said conservatives were being "muted" in Google search results.

Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia, asked about the email. “It’s my understanding that the email was sent like the Congressman referred,” Pichai said, asserting that Google doesn’t build partisan features or features without any goal to influence elections.

Johnson also asked about Google’s use and protection of consumer data, which eventually led to questions from Republican Ted Poe. He asked about tracking consumers through their smartphones and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulations. Poe also queried about changing privacy regulations for consumers to opt-in to the dissemination of personal information, rather than opt out.

That data helps brands target ads to consumers on Google's search engine and partner sites, such as publishers.

In 2019, eMarketer estimates Google will control 36.2% of all U.S. digital advertising revenue, down from 37.1% in 2017. In comparison, Facebook will control 20.8%. 

“We are playing second fiddle to the Europeans” when it comes to disseminating personal information, Poe said.

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