Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, was on Capitol Hill today taking questions from the House Judiciary Committee. Unfortunately it turned into another episode of “old people calling tech support.” Republicans are dead-set on trying to work the refs by pretending tech platforms are politically biased. Rep. Zoe Lofgren tried to put that sad talking point to bed, but given their stubbornness on the issue, her time was probably better spent on other things.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) tried to deflate a tired GOP talking point—that Google’s algorithm is somehow biased against conservatives—by using a very colorful example. She asked Google CEO Sundar Pinchai why Donald Trump’s face pops up when you search for “idiot” under “images”:
“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,” Rep. Lofgren said. “How would that happen—how does search work so that that would occur?”
“Any time you type in a keyword, as Google we have gone out and crawled and stored copies of billions of pages in our index. And we take the keyword and match it against their 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 search results for that query. And then we evaluate them with external raters, and they evaluate it to objective guidelines. And that’s how we make sure the process is working.—things like relevance, freshness, popularity, how other people are using it—and based on that, you know, at any given time we try to rank and find the best results for that query,” Pichai explained.
“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,” Rep. Lofgren clarified.
“This is working at scale, and, you know, we don’t manually intervene in any particular search result,” Pichai said.
You’d think that answer would put things to bed, but Pinchai had to patiently respond to some GOP Representatives who were steamed about the search engine accurately characterizing their policies:
.@RepSteveChabot suggests Google is biased against Republicans b/c when GOP was pushing Obamacare repeal, "I googled 'American Health Care Act' & virtually every article was an attack on our bill. Article after article alleging our bill would result in millions losing care." ? pic.twitter.com/jBxA6kIfNL— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 11, 2018
And white supremacist Steve King (R-IA) went full-on Grandpa Simpson, shouting about his iPhone, a device Google does not manufacture:
Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) tried to steer things back on some kind of productive track by dismissing his colleagues’ pathetic questions about their own Google results:
.@tedlieu admonishes colleagues: "If you want positive search results, do positive things. If you don't want negative search results, don't do negative things. And to my colleagues, if you're getting bad results, don't blame Google or Twitter, consider blaming yourself." ??? pic.twitter.com/Gby0jZbL8x— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 11, 2018
People were pretty exasperated with the ignorance and incompetence on display in the committee hearing:
When a vast swath of Congress doesn’t understand how computers work, we need a younger Congress. https://t.co/hHUT7iKHEM— Matt Post (@mattlpost) December 11, 2018
I thought this was a joke and then I watched the video ? https://t.co/1UdZgqNbFV— Jacque ? (@_terminatorj) December 11, 2018
Just a reminder that the elected officials that are deciding how to regulate the internet have no fucking clue how it works ??♀️??♀️ https://t.co/E5BeSHsQPS— Jason ?? (@michiamojason) December 11, 2018
This is like me trying to explain to my Mom the difference between data usage and wifi. https://t.co/PcPTxMiypX— M.A.D. (@MADs_World) December 11, 2018
Tired of old ass mofos wasting time in Congress trying to learn how the internet works https://t.co/r0KRrqpBih— herleen (@Hisleen) December 11, 2018
There are plenty of interesting and downright necessary issues where Congress can flex their oversight with a massive monopoly like Google, but policing personal Google results is not one of them. They could ask about Google censoring search results in China, they could ask about Google’s sketchy local search shenanigans, they could ask what Google is doing to prevent the spread of false information—ANYTHING.
Instead, we get several hours of confused senior citizens demanding to know why they see upsetting information about themselves on the internet machine. The answers to way too many of the questions asked today were already available, if only they Googled them.
h/t: The Verge