During a three-and-a-half-hour hearing with Google’s CEO in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, members of Congress largely spent time whining about finding negative coverage of themselves on the internet and blaming Google for it.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle got a crash course in how search tools work in Google as they grilled CEO Sundar Pichai on alleged political bias by his company.
In a stunning complaint lacking any self-awareness, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) complained that he had to go “deep into the search results” to find any favorable stories about Republicans’ attempts to repeal Obamacare.
“Your company is in effect picking winners and losers and affecting elections,” he alleged without evidence. Pichai responded that his company’s search algorithms “have no notion of political sentiment.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said he was frustrated that he couldn’t edit his Wikipedia page after ranting that the Southern Poverty Law Center stirs up “hate.” (It doesn’t.)
“My chief of staff went on [Wikipedia], she told me, every night for two weeks and put proper, honest information in with proper annotation, and Wikipedia’s liberal editors around the world would knock it out every day and instead put up a bunch of garbage,” he said. Pichai did not respond, as Gohmert never actually asked a question.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) took it upon himself to tell Pichai how his own company works after asking if Google employees have ever been punished for manipulating search results.
“It’s not possible for an individual employee or group of employees to manipulate our search result,” Pichai tried to explain. “We have a robust framework, including many steps in the process where ―”
“Well, my time is up,” Smith interrupted. “Let me just say I disagree. I think humans can manipulate the process.”
On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) wanted to know why his appearances on MSNBC weren’t bigger hits on the search engine.
“It’s hard for me to fathom being on MSNBC for, like, eight minutes each show, four times, and there’s more content on Breitbart News than MSNBC,” he said. “If you’d let me know about that. I’d appreciate it.”
Cohen also requested that Google create a tutorial phone line for people using the search engine.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) wanted to know if Google can track his movements through his iPhone. When Pichai said he would have to look at the congressman’s phone settings to know, Poe whined that it wasn’t a good enough answer.
“It’s not a trick question,” he said. “You make $100 million a year. You ought to be able to answer that question.”
But white supremacist Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) might have had the best self-own of all when he complained that his 7-year-old granddaughter inexplicably found negative depictions of him while playing with an iPhone.
“I have a 7-year-old granddaughter who picked up her phone before the election, and she’s playing a little game, the kind of game a kid would play, and up pops a picture of her grandfather, and I’m not gonna say into the record what kind of language was used around that picture of her grandfather, but I’d ask you, how does that show up on a 7-year-old’s iPhone that’s playing a kid’s game?” he asked.
“Congressman, iPhone is actually made by a different company,” Pichai reminded him.
“It might have been an Android,” King responded.
Pichai said he would be happy to speak to King privately to understand his issue better.