Sundar Pichai’s long-awaited congressional hearing will finally take place on December 5th, according to sources speaking to both CNET and the Washington Post. Google’s chief executive will reportedly respond to questions from the House Judiciary Committee in a session that’s likely to focus on accusations of political bias in its search results, as well as a censored “Dragonfly” search engine the company is said to be building for the Chinese market. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This won’t be the first time Pichai has travelled to Washington to address these concerns, but the last time he did so was for a private meeting with Republican lawmakers. In contrast, this hearing will be public, inviting a lot more scrutiny from the media and the general public. Google faced heavy criticism over its decision to decline an invitation to a public hearing in September, attended by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified for two days in April.
Unlike previous hearings that have focussed on the very real concerns of foreign interference in US elections and preserving data privacy, the grounds for some of these latest accusations are much more spurious. At various points, President Trump has accused Google of suppressing positive news about his presidency without providing hard evidence, and not promoting his inaugural State of the Union address (it did).
Google’s potential return to the Chinese search market has generated a lot of criticism from the White House, human rights groups, and even from the company’s own employees. Pichai describes his company’s China plans as very preliminary, saying that it’s, “important for us to explore… given how important the market is and how many users there are.”