Google CEO tells Congress why Trump comes up in searches for ‘idiot’

Google's chief executive Sundar Pichai has told a US congressional panel that the company has no plans to launch a search engine in China but did not rule out a future launch.

In a session that frustrated and bemused many observers, Pichai was also asked to explain why a picture of President Donald Trump comes up in Google Images when people search the term "idiot".

Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai appears before the House Judiciary Committee.Credit:AP

Lofgren asked: "So it's not some little man sitting behind the curtain figuring out what we're going to show the users?"

Pichai said the company doesn't manually intervene on any particular search result.

The Guardian reported recently that the "idiot" search result is partly because the Green Day song American Idiot was used by protesters to soundtrack Trump's trip to London.

But there had also been a campaign to capitalise on the association and manipulate Google’s algorithm by Reddit users upvoting a post containing a photo of him and the word "idiot".

Much of the hearing before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee focused on Republican concerns that Google's search results are biased against conservatives and that the company sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats rejected that claim as "fantasy", and at least one said the search results highlighted more conservative voices.

Pichai said the search engine attempts to help people register to vote or find a polling place, but rejected assertions that the company paid for Latino voters' transportation to polls in some states.

"We don't engage in partisan activities," he told the panel.

Roger Stone, former adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, left, and Alex Jones, radio host, attended the hearing.Credit:Bloomberg

The hearing got off to an odd start when former Trump adviser Roger Stone and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has complained of being censored by tech platforms, shouted at Pichai from the back of the room.

"You bet on the wrong country, Sundar!" Jones said, calling the company "absolutely the most evil corporation on Earth".

Some observers expressed frustration at the apparent lack of technological and engineering knowledge among the members of Congress who asked Pichai questions.

Republican Congressman Ted Poe raised his voice as he repeatedly asked Pichai whether Google was tracking his location.

Pichai attempted to say that it would depend on what apps or sites Poe was using, however Poe demanded a "yes or no answer".

Congresman Ted Poe, from Texas, asked Pichai whether Google was tracking his phone.Credit:Bloomberg

On the issue of China, Pichai had told US legislators in a letter in August that providing such a search engine would give "broad benefits" to China but that it was unclear whether Google could launch the service there.

He told the committee on Tuesday that he would be "fully transparent" with policymakers if the company brings search products to China.

"Right now, there are no plans to launch search in China," he testified. "Getting access to information is an important human right, so we always are compelled across the world to try hard to provide that information."

Politicians and hundreds of Google employees have raised concerns that Google would comply with China's internet censorship and surveillance policies if it re-enters the Chinese search engine market. Google's main search platform has been blocked in China since 2010, but it has been attempting to make new inroads into the world's largest smartphone market by users.

A Chinese government official speaking on the condition of anonymity told Reuters last month that it was unlikely Google would get clearance to launch a search service in 2019.

Pichai did not say what steps Google would take to comply with Chinese laws if it re-enters the market.

"We would look at what the conditions are to operate," he said.

with Reuters

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