Google CEO Sundar Pichai was summoned to a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday. Pichai was there to explain how Google’s algorithm works, or precisely how a Google search for “idiot” throws up an image of Donald Trump.
Why Google search for “idiot” is so bias?
Pichai, in his explanation to the House Judiciary Committee, said that the algorithms take into account about 200 factors, including relevance, popularity and more, to come up with the best match for the searched term.
“So it’s not some little man sitting behind the curtain figuring out what we’re going to show the user. It’s basically a compilation of what users are generating, and trying to sort through that information.” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. inquired. Zofgren was primarily referring to Republicans’ allegations that the search results were intentionally manipulated for political reasons.
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Separately, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas asked the Google CEO if he ever ordered an employee to maneuver the search results. To this, Pichai explained that it is almost impossible to do as the process involves so many steps. Smith, however, was not content with the explanation, and said “I think humans can manipulate the process. It is a human process at its base.”
Further, Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, questioned Pichai over other negative search results. Chabot complained that when he searches for the Republican health care bill or the GOP tax cuts, the first several pages only show negative articles. “Is it just the algorithm, or is there more happening there?” asked Chabot.
Pichai again tried his best to convince, saying it’s all done by the algorithms, which are based on some factors. The CEO assured that there is no political bias in it. “Our algorithms have no notion of political sentiment in it,” he said.
Chabot, however, was not convinced, saying the conservatives believe that the search giant is “picking winners and losers in political discourse.”
Donald Trump vs. Google
It all started a few months back, when the news outlets reported that a Google search for idiot was giving images of Donald Trump. At the time, many believed that it was done intentionally by tricking the search results, a practice that is commonly known as “Google bombing.” Donald Trump is not the first president to be the victim of such tactics. In the mid-2000s, a Google search for the “miserable failure” gave results about President George W. Bush.
Donald Trump has long been accusing Google of bias against conservatives. A few months back, Trump accused the search giant of favoring liberals with the search results. He even called the search results “rigged” and accused Google of “suppressing voices of Conservatives.” Trump also tweeted a video with a hashtag #StopTheBias, claiming that the search giant promoted former President Barack Obama’s State of the Union addresses every January but not his.
Google search results for “Trump News” shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 28, 2018
Google, at the time, rejected the claims, saying it never promoted Trump’s or Obama’s addresses from their first years in office.
Another Trump vs. Google incident came up after the Trump administration came up with the travel ban involving seven Muslim-majority countries. At the time, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google employees were planning to tweak search results to show users how they could contribute to pro-immigration causes.
Pichai on re-entering China and privacy issues
The three-and-a-half hour session was majorly dominated by questions related to Google Search and political bias of Google’s employee base. However, some of the time was also used to grill Google about its China business and data collection tactics.
The Google CEO reiterated that the company as of now has no plans to re-enter China with a search engine that gives censored results to comply with the demand of the Chinese authorities. Further, Pichai assured that the company will be “fully transparent” if there is any change in the plans.
On the privacy issue, when asked for yes-or-no on what information the company collects on the user, the Google CEO gave no straight answer, instead tried to convey that things are complicated.
Republican Ted Poe tried getting a straight answer by asking “I’ve got an iPhone … Can Google track me when I move?” To this, Pichai said, “Not by default.” And, when Poe demanded a yes-or-no answer, the Google CEO suggested that it is complicated.