Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Tuesday repeatedly guaranteed Republicans that Google shows no political bias in its search results, but Democrats kept undermining his message by saying Google is free to engage in any bias it likes.
The Silicon Valley giant has dealt with various controversies about political bias, from search results to firing an engineer for his views on gender to executives’ emails about how to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Pichai appeared before the House Judiciary Committee and defended his company on the matter of bias, in addition to matters of personal privacy and other issues.
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But right from the first Democratic statement, from ranking member Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.), Democrats defended Google by arguing it has the right to be biased.
Nadler compared Google to conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, declaring that just as Limbaugh has the right to be biased against liberals, Google has the right to show bias toward conservatives.
"Even if Google were deliberately discriminating against conservative viewpoints, just as Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting and conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh discriminate against liberal points of view, that would be its right as a private company to do so, not to be questioned by government," Nadler said.
He floated the idea of reinstituting a form of the fairness doctrine, which had previously inhibited the rise of conservative talk radio by requiring all sides to be represented, but he said conservatives would likely not be willing to take such a step.
Pichai did not welcome the comparison to Limbaugh and Fox, since he repeatedly said Google's policies and principles are neutral. He argued his leadership is free from bias and Google results bring up a diversity of views, but Democrats kept comparing Google to opinionated media brands.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D., Md.) took a similar line as Nadler had, comparing Google to Fox News to say it’s pointless to accuse either of bias.
"You've got a right to have whatever politics you have. We could subpoena Fox News and bring them in here and beat them up about how 90 percent of the references on Fox News to Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton are negative, but they’ve got that right under the First Amendment, and you’ve got a right under the First Amendment to have whatever political views you’ve got," Raskin said.
But Pichai was saying something close to the opposite, that Google’s products operating with bias would be against the "core principles" of the company.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D., Calif.) spoke later in the hearing and declared most of it had been a "waste of time" because the First Amendment allows Google to show bias.
"The First Amendment limits what the government can do in regulating the content of speech, it does not limit Google, but Google does have to follow corporate laws and other laws, and under those laws you and your board of directors have a fiduciary duty to your shareholders," Lieu told Pichai.
Lieu went on to say he does not accuse Google of discriminating against conservative speech.