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Lawmakers grill Google CEO on concerns of bias, election interference and privacy

Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified before the House Judiciary Committee in response to criticism over some of the company’s practices. Pichai faced grilling from the right on allegations of anti-conservative bias in search results, as well as questions from the left on the tech giant's commitment to stopping foreign misinformation and hate speech, among other concerns. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For the better part of a year, lawmakers have been waiting for a chance to question the head of Google, much like they have done with Facebook and other tech giants.

    But Google's CEO has eluded that moment, until today, when, as John Yang reports, he faced a grilling on Capitol Hill.

  • John Yang:

    When the House Judiciary Committee finally had a chance to question Google CEO Sundar Pichai, lawmakers from both parties quickly hit him with a wave of criticism, from the right, allegations of anti-conservative bias affecting Google's search results.

  • Man:

    What actions are you going to take to try to counter the political bias in some of those examples that I just gave?

  • John Yang:

    And from the left, questions about the tech giant's commitment to stopping foreign misinformation and hate speech.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.:

    What is Google doing to combat the spread of white supremacy and right-wing extremism across YouTube?

  • John Yang:

    In his opening statement, Pichai quickly fought back against accusations of bias.

  • Sundar Pichai:

    I lead this company without political bias, and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way. To do otherwise would be against our core principles and our business interests.

  • John Yang:

    Republicans weren't buying it.

    Steve Chabot of Ohio described searching for articles on a Republican health care bill.

  • Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio:

    I Googled American Health Care Act. And virtually every article was an attack on our bill.

    But it wasn't until you got to the third or fourth page of search results before you found anything remotely positive about our bill. How do you explain this apparent bias on Google's part against conservative points of view, against conservative policies?

  • Sundar Pichai:

    What is important here is, we use a robust methodology to reflect what is being said about any given topic at any particular time.

  • John Yang:

    Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte pushed Pichai about the way Google handles political ads. Television and radio stations must give political candidates their lowest ad rates, but Internet advertising is not subject to those rules.

  • Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.:

    Should a competing political candidates be charged the same effective ad rates to reach prospective voters?

  • Sundar Pichai:

    Our advertising products are built without any bias, and the rates are comparative, set by a live auction process.

  • John Yang:

    Pichai seemed to struggle at times to persuade lawmakers.

    For their part, Democrats had their own line of questioning. Eric Swalwell of California focused on efforts to stop misinformation.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.:

    Mr. Pichai, as part of Russia's attack our democracy in 2016, it used ads on your platform, on Facebook's platform, on Twitter's platform. And money was provided in rubles and from Russian addresses.

    What has Google done to make sure this doesn't happen again?

  • Sundar Pichai:

    We did see limited improper activity, and, obviously, we learned from that. We have been very transparent with our findings.

  • John Yang:

    Pichai downplayed bipartisan concerns that Google is exploring ways to reenter the Chinese market. The company is working on a search engine that would reportedly allow for Chinese censorship of the Web.

  • Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.:

    Are any employees having product meetings on this Chinese project?

  • Sundar Pichai:

    We have undertaken an internal effort, but, right now, there are no plans to launch a search service in China.

  • John Yang:

    Privacy concerns were also very much on the minds of lawmakers, especially apps that allow location tracking.

    Ted Poe is a Republican from Texas.

  • Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas:

    So Google knows that I am moving over there. It's not a trick question. You know, you make $100 million a year. You ought to be able to answer that question. Does Google know, through this phone, that I am moving over there and sitting next to Mr. Johnson?

  • Sundar Pichai:

    I wouldn't be able to answer without looking at the iPhone.

  • Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas:

    You can't say yes or no?

  • Sundar Pichai:

    Not without knowing more details, sir.

  • John Yang:

    The hearing ends a year in which lawmakers have scrutinized several of the big tech giants, and indications are that that will continue next year.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

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