Google CEO Sundar Pichai finally swung by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday for a real clown show of a hearing which—including a denial that the company is planning to launch a censored Chinese search engine “right now”—contained little useful information. Instead, it was mostly Republican members of the committee yelling at Pichai for alleged liberal bias, which in their view is obviously why Google doesn’t return every search query with “Search instead for Respect President Trump”.
Much of it entailed members of Congress blaming an insidious liberal conspiracy for bad press popping up on Google. Ohio Representative Steve Chabot complained that Google search results on GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act returned negative reviews in “virtually every article,” and Texas Representative Louie Gohmert insisted that Pichai is “so surrounded by liberality that hates conservatism” that he’s “like a blind man who doesn’t even know what light looks like.” But the reddest of red meat came from Iowa Representative Steve King (probably best known nationally for his budding love affair with the far right and Austrian crypto-fascists), who demanded the names of Google’s engineering staff so he could do some McCarthyism on them.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai to disclose the names of more than 1,000 employees who work on the search engine’s algorithm to examine for “a built-in bias.”
“There is a very strong conviction on this side of the aisle that the algorithms are written with a bias against conservatives,” King said Tuesday during a House Judiciary hearing.
“What we don’t know are who are these thousand people and we don’t know what their social media looks like.”
Per a video of the exchange on the Daily Beast, King added that if Google refuses to hand over a list of its staff, and then refuses to release precise details on how its algorithms work, the next step would be to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields platforms from liability for user-generated content. Beyond that, King said, the government could break up Google on antitrust grounds.
Pichai, obviously, did not agree to give the guy the names and social media profiles of his staff, instead claiming that Google results are the outcome of an algorithmic process designed to be neutral and not direct human selection.
As Slate noted, lawmakers also touched on privacy issues at the hearing, including the extent of the data Google collects on users (like location data) and the lack of transparency into how it stores and monetizes it—one of the concerns facing tech giants that is likely to persist into a House of Representatives controlled by Democrats in 2019. But Republicans seemed much less concerned with issues of unchecked corporate power as browbeating Pichai into giving right-wing outlets and their talking points favorable treatment.
In any case, House Republicans walked away from this hearing having accomplished exactly what they achieved at that similarly nonsensical hearing on whether Facebook oppressed pro-Donald Trump YouTube stars Diamond & Silk in April: nothing? Google, however, walked away from this hearing with the status quo fully intact, and with more genuine concerns about its de facto monopoly over the search market and lack of transparency obscured by a bunch of rambling.