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Google CEO meeting with lawmakers amid Republican criticism

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By Reuters
Google CEO meeting with lawmakers amid Republican criticism
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks on stage during the annual Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam   -   Copyright  Stephen Lam(Reuters)

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Google’s chief executive officer, Sundar Pichai, is on Capitol Hill this week to face questions from Republican lawmakers who accuse the company of being biased against conservatives and have raised a litany of other concerns.

House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican who has repeatedly criticized Google, is hosting a meeting of more than two dozen Republican lawmakers on Friday with Pichai.

“Google has a lot of questions to answer about reports of bias in its search results, violations of user privacy, anticompetitive behaviour, and business dealings with repressive regimes like China,” McCarthy said in a statement.

Republicans also want to question Google, the search engine of Alphabet Inc <GOOGL.O>, about whether its search algorithms are influenced by human bias, privacy issues, search dominance and other competitive issues, how it classifies news and opinion results, and work and partnerships in countries with human rights violations.

Pichai said in a statement he plans to meet with both Democrats and Republicans, “answering a wide range of questions, and explaining our approach.”

Pichai wrote in an internal email last week that suggestions that Google would interfere in search results for political reasons were “absolutely false. We do not bias our products to favour any political agenda.”

The Wall Street Journal on Sept. 20 reported, citing internal emails, that Google employees had brainstormed ways to alter search functions to counter the Trump administration’s controversial 2017 travel ban. The Journal said Google did not go through with the ideas that were brainstormed.

Google came under criticism for refusing to send a top executive to a Sept. 5 Senate Intelligence Committee on efforts to counteract foreign efforts to influence U.S. elections and political discourse. Facebook’s chief operating officer <FB.O> and Twitter’s chief executive <TWTR.N> testified at the hearing, where an empty chair was pointedly left for Google after the committee rejected Google’s top lawyer as a witness.

Pichai also is expected to meet Thursday with House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, congressional aides said.

Google has faced questions from lawmakers on whether it intends to resume operating its search engine in China. Google described its “work on search” for China as “exploratory” and “not close to launching.”

McCarthy said the House Judiciary Committee plans a hearing after the November elections with Google.

Google’s chief privacy officer testified before a Senate panel on Wednesday and in written testimony said the company acknowledged that it had “made mistakes in the past” on privacy.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department met with state attorneys general to focus on the need to protect consumer privacy when big technology companies amass vast troves of data, but came to no immediate conclusions, Reuters reported.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions led the discussion with 13 states and the District of Columbia, the department said. The meeting was called by Sessions to discuss whether social media companies have intentionally stifled “the free exchange of ideas.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler)