While testifying in front of the House Judicial Committee on Tuesday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai answered questions about Chinese censorship, privacy, and competitive dominance, while also being targeted by Republicans on the committee about its alleged conservative bias, according to a report by Business Insider.
Republicans involved with the committee focused on allegations of a bias that is found in Google’s search results, with the view that Democrats that work for the tech giant have set the algorithm to favor liberal websites over their conservative counterparts for higher placement during searches on the site.
Democrats on the committee did push against the narrative being put forth with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, the representative of the district where Google’s headquarters are located, giving Pichai an opportunity to give an in-depth explanation as to why the search results found on Google are not biased. The question she asked surrounded President Donald Trump.
Lofgren opened the questioning by saying, “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.”
As of publishing, the majority of images that appear upon a Google search involve Donald Trump or those associated with him.
.@RepZoeLofgren asks @Google CEO @SundarPichai: "Right now, if you google the word 'idiot' under images a picture of Donald Trump comes up. I just did that. How would that happen?" pic.twitter.com/4BBSeghssm
— CSPAN (@cspan) December 11, 2018
Lofgren went on to ask, “How would that happen? How does search work so that would occur?”
Pichai provided a thorough explanation of what causes placement in the Google image results, saying, “We provide search today for any time you type in a keyword, 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.”
In response, Lofgren asked Pichai to make it clear that there wasn’t “some little man sitting behind the curtain” who was making the decisions on what would appear after a search, but more of a compilation of user-generated images.
Pichai explained further, “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.”
Republicans regularly questioned Pichai about the political bias that they believe lies in Google’s culture, with Steve Chabot, a Republican from Ohio, using the example of the Affordable Care Act repeal bill. Chabot said that positive articles on the bill wouldn’t appear until the third or fourth page of a search, adding, “I know Google’s attitude, the algorithm made us do it, I don’t know if I buy that.”