Google CEO faces US House grilling on breach and China censorship
Washington DC: Google's CEO faces a grilling from US lawmakers on how the web search giant handled an alarming data breach and whether it may bend to Chinese government censorship demands.
CEO Sundar Pichai's appearance Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee comes after he angered members of a Senate panel in September by declining their invitation to testify about foreign governments' manipulation of online services to sway US elections.
Pichai's no-show at that hearing was marked by an empty chair for Google alongside the Facebook and Twitter executives. Pichai went to Washington later in September to mend fences, meeting with some two dozen Republicans and indicating he also planned to meet with Democrats.
He took part last week in a White House meeting with other tech industry executives that focused mainly on getting government and businesses working more closely on accelerating emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.
In October, Google announced it was shutting down its long-shunned Plus social network following its disclosure of a flaw discovered in March that could have exposed some personal information of as many as 500,000 people.
The company deliberately avoided disclosing the privacy lapse at the time, in part to avoid drawing regulators' scrutiny and damaging its reputation, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing anonymous individuals and documents.
Lawmakers want Google to explain its failure to reveal the breach. On Monday, the company said it was accelerating its plans to shutter Plus after discovering a privacy flaw that inadvertently exposed the names, email addresses, ages and other personal information of 52.5 million users last month.
The service will now go dark in April instead of August, as previously announced.
"We work hard to ensure the integrity of our products, and we've put a number of checks and balances in place to ensure they continue to live up to our standards," Pichai said.
Lawmakers are also concerned by recent reports that Google is poised to re-enter China with a search engine generating censored results to comply with the demands of that country's Communist government. President Donald Trump has accused Google of rigging the results of its dominant search engine to suppress conservative viewpoints and highlight coverage from media that he says distribute "fake news." That's another area of potential questions to Pichai by committee members.
The company has denied any political bias, and there's no evidence of an anti-conservative tilt. Pichai said in his written testimony that "I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way. To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests."
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