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Sundar Pichai testifies in Congress, responds to political bias, data collection on Android, and more

Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar Pichai (Image credit: Android Central)

Following the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, it was Google CEO Sundar Pichai's turn to testify in front on Congress on December 11, 2018. Pichai was called into Congress to comment on a variety of subjects, including the company's political bias with search results, data collected by Android devices, and much more.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of questions from Republican representatives centered around whether or not a political bias does exist. Republicans argued that Google Search favors liberal/progressive information rather than conservative viewpoints, but Pichai said that this isn't the case.

"We make sure we do so in a non-partisan way."

Pichai said under oath that there isn't a difference in search results from a political viewpoint, but as with all searches, a variety of factors do come into play to determine what people see (such as the time of day a search is done, where a search is entered from a geographic standpoint, etc.). Pichai also reinforced the fact that Google Search results are provided by algorithms, not the company's employees, and that algorithms don't understand or take political biases of any kind into consideration when providing results that people see. Talking about its search results, Pichai said, "We make sure we do so in a non-partisan way."

One representative brought up the point of searching "idiot" on Google Images and the results being primarily images of Donald Trump. In response to this, Pichai said that search results are shown to users based on keywords tagged with pictures, things that are trending/popular, etc. — further reinforcing the idea that algorithms that have been in place for 20 years are responsible for showing results and not individual employees that may have a personal bias one way or another.

Data collection by Android devices was another main focus, specifically whether or not Google collects too much data and if it makes it easy enough for users to control the data that's collected.

In response to this, Pichai told Congress that Google gives its users "transparency, choice, and control" when it comes to their data. Pichai said that data collected from Android phones depends on the apps that are installed and when they're being used (such as a fitness app tracking the steps you take).

"Right now there are no plans for us to launch a search product in China."

As for providing users with tools to understand what data is collected, Pichai told Congress that it regularly reminds people to perform a privacy check-up so they can have an understanding of what data is collected and choose to toggle off certain data collections if they so choose.

The recent Google+ data breaches were also brought up during the hearing, and in response to this, Pichai reiterated that the breaches were discovered using its automated testing systems and that there wasn't any evidence of user info being wrongly used during the time it was exposed. As for the legal obligation that Google has when it comes to reporting compromised info (specifically when financial information isn't compromised), Pichai said users are notified within 72 hours of any breaches.

And, in regards to Google entering the Chinese market with a censored version of its search engine, Pichai said:

Right now there are no plans for us to launch a search product in China.

Some other points from the testimony include the following:

  • Google does not choose conservative voices over liberal ones (and vice versa).
  • Hate speech that incites violence is removed from YouTube.
  • Google is "very committed" to promoting diversity within YouTube.
  • Google does not sell user data as the practice is against its policies.

Did you watch the testimony today? If so, what's your takeaway from it? Sound off in the comments below.

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

  • Of course he will not admit it - this will have to be decided in courts, more than likely.
  • There's nothing to admit.
  • What exactly do the courts need to decide? Google has First Amendment rights. The government has no business telling Google what it can/can’t do.
  • The 1st Amendment doesn't apply.
  • When it comes to the government telling any company or person what they can do or say, that by very definition falls under the 1st.
  • Yep. You're exactly right. This^
  • LOL, unless you are a baker refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay wedding, right?
  • One representative brought up the point of searching "idiot" on Google Images and the results being primarily images of Donald Trump. LMAO I wonder why....
  • It's pretty obvious it's because of the crazy, and I mean crazy, Liberals.
  • Because they didn't have your picture available yet.
  • No surprise he won't admit bias even after others have proven Google Search is heavily biased.
  • Nobody has proven Google is biased. It is just the minority stating as so on You Tube and the sheep just accepting as the truth.
  • They actually have or this wouldn't be before Congress.
  • Except they haven't.
  • Did they bring up the leaked video of them crying because of the election and coming up with ideas on how to change the midterms?
  • You mean like how Republicans threw away absentee ballots in N.C.-09, Georgia, and Florida?
  • No. the Dem votes brought in by car in the 11th hour when the Republicans were way ahead. Or the military votes that weren't counted.
  • ^fake news there.
  • Then why does Google news continually use liberal sources as news. Fox news, daily caller, newsmax, Breitbart, weekly standard, and many other alternative conservative news organizations are notoriously pushed down. The algorithm is programmed by people who have inherent bias in favor of the left. I do find it interesting how search depends on geographic location so if you are searching in San Francisco then you will get more liberal content vs. searching in Chattanooga, TN. Ha I doubt it. He is lying and hiding behind an algorithm.
  • Daily Caller, Newsmax, Breitbart, and Weekly Standard are all conspiracy theory/fake news websites. None of them are credible. 🙄
  • And CNN/MSNBC is? What a joke!
  • There is a HUGE difference between CNN/MSNBC and Daily Caller/Newsmax/Brietbart. It's a joke people don't understand that...
  • CNN, MSNBC, and the like are all legitimate news sources. The ones listed above are not. They're all based on opinion and it's all fake news. If you don't understand the difference, that's your problem, not Google's.
  • My feed regularly includes conservative media. I have the choice to keep getting stories from them or saying I am not interested in their news. The same is true of liberal or mainstream media. Right now the top story on my Google News is from Fox News. I don't consider them liberal. They are obviously not pushed down.
  • Just because it's a non-sentient piece of software doesn't mean it isn't biased. It's whatever the engineers designed it to be and with over 90% of them being far left progressives of course the algorithm would become saturated by Google's liberal zeitgeist. To be fair, I'm sure most of it is done unconsciously, but things like their censorship of so-called "hate speech" are very much intentional.
  • Google has First Amendment rights. The government has no business telling Google what it can/can’t do. This whole thing was a charade and an incredible waste of time and taxpayer dollars.
  • Nope. Not a 1st Amendment issue. Not at this stage
  • Deleted mis post
  • When it comes to the government, yes, yes it is a First Amendment issue.
  • What a waste of taxpayer money and time. If the main focus was on liberal/conservative IMO. You don't like the search results don't use Google! Its easy use the many other search engines out there. They should of focused on privacy and use of user data. These are my concerns and should be for most people if you are smart. I want my data protected and clear/accessible settings that show what happens to my data. I don't want to have to follow the various paths my data goes down to find out company X is using it without my knowledge.
  • "Protecting the privacy and security of our users has long been an essential part of our mission," Pichai said." Only android central writers and google fanboys believe this BS.
  • What a clown show, a total clown show with crazy Alex Jones yelling in the hall. And pure comedy when Pichai explained to ****-retweeting Steve King, “Congressman, the iPhone is made by a different company. And so, you know, I mean...”