Google CEO Sundar Pichai delivered a deft and sly performance Tuesday in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, responding evenly to sometimes ridiculous questions and managing to avoid most blows.
Pichai had a number of assists from helpful Democratic members (some of whom receive substantial campaign contributions from Google’s parent, Alphabet), who either tossed him softball questions or ran out the clock with absurd questions.
The hearing was out of central casting, with all the necessary elements – protesters being escorted out, the Monopoly character “Uncle Moneybags,” and perennial tech gadfly Alex Jones in the audience. On top of that, clueless committee members of both parties waved their cellphones and demanded answers to sometimes buffoonish questions.
Even the silly questions served Google’s interests, as the more journalists focused on the comical lack of technology savvy among members of Congress, the less they focused on Pichai’s many deliberate evasions and misdirection at the hearing.
Pichai faced a potentially fraught situation at the committee hearing.
Republican members were angry about two years of revelations of anti-conservative bias at Google in its search, advertising, employment and content. Democratic members asked hard questions about privacy breaches, tracking and the use of data.
Yet the hearing proved oddly anti-climactic, with about half the questions failing to meet their mark. The rest were skillfully parried by Pichai, with no follow-up from members.
Some of the key issues that arose in the hearing:
- Anti-conservative discrimination in search and content;
- Project Dragonfly
- Voto Latino
- Forced arbitration
Several committee members asked Pichai about Google’s data tracking practices, which he deflected by pointing to Google’s privacy checkups and reminders. No member got a satisfactory answer to questions about why it is so difficult to control the data or follow up on the privacy concerns. Perhaps this is because the system is designed by Google to be opaque. Pichai stayed on message – nothing to see here, move along.
Missing entirely from even being mentioned at the hearing was my client James Damore, whose public firing and shaming by Pichai in August 2017 led to a widely publicized class-action lawsuit against Google.
Though Damore kicked off much of the national debate on issues that have featured prominently in many of the Big Tech hearings – such as search bias, employment bias and corporate bias – House Judiciary Committee members did not ask what happened to him and those like him who were sacrificed on the altar of political correctness at Google.
Like Damore, ultimately many of the questions raised in the hearing Tuesday will be forgotten, papered over by lobbyists, political contributions and the short-lived attention spans of Congress. Google will live on, dominating search in China, India, Burma, Syria, and any place with a market and money.
Meanwhile, Big Tech continues to expand its influence in our lives. Tuesday was a good day for Google.