Google CEO Sundar Pichai became the newest Silicon Valley CEO to appear in front of House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Pichai, who had decided not to appear in front of the Committee when Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, testified, found himself in the cross hairs of Republicans immediately.
The purpose of the hearing was to decide whether Google is biased against conservative media and websites. It was also an opportunity for Google and its CEO to come clean on its business practices and explain how it ranks search results on the most dominant search engine in the world. Zoe Lofgren, a Congresswoman from the district where Google is based, gave Pichai an opportunity to explain at length why the search engine is not biased against conservative media.
In order to make herself clear, she used US President Donald Trump as a reference. “Manipulation of search results, I think it’s important to talk about how search works. Right now, if you Google the word ‘idiot,’ under images, a picture of Donald Trump comes up. I just did that,” Lofgren said while grilling one of the most prominent executive at Google after its founder Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
Lofgren is actually right. If you search idiot on Google and switch to images tab then you will seen all top results having the familiar face of Donald Trump. She then asked Pichai, “How would that happen? How does search work so that would occur?”
“We provide search today for any time you type in a key word, we as Google, we have crawled and stored copies of billions of web pages in our index. We take the keyword and match it against web pages and rank them based on over 200 signals. Things like relevance, freshness, popularity, how other people are using it, and based on that, at any given time we try to rank and find the best results for that query. Then we evaluate them with external raters, to make sure, and they evaluate it to objective guidelines, and how that’s how we make sure the process is working,” Sundar Pichai replied.
Lofgren immediately followed up to ask: “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.”
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“Last year we served over 3 trillion searches, just as a fact, every single day, 15 percent of the searches Google sees, we have never seen them before. So this is working at scale. We don’t manually intervene on any search result,” Pichai replied, according to Business Insider.
While Pichai has made clear why Trump appears as the result to image query of the word ‘idiot’, he could not quite steer the firm clear of political bias in its culture. Several Republicans questioned Pichai as to whether there is “political bias baked into” its culture. Some also said that search for Affordable Care Act repeal bill, takes third or fourth page to see positive coverage. Google and Facebook are now being questioned about their practices in businesses and these Congressmen and Congresswomen have enough power to disrupt these two fledgling Silicon Valley tech firms.