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Ranking Member Nadler Statement for a Hearing with Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Washington, DC, December 11, 2018

Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, delivered the following opening remarks during a Judiciary Committee hearing on “Transparency & Accountability: Examining Google and its Data Collection, Use, and Filtering Practices” with Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai:

“Mr. Chairman, our society has become increasingly reliant on social media and other online platforms to obtain, create, share, and sort information.  This information helps us make decisions ranging in importance from where to make dinner reservations to which candidate to vote for in a presidential election.   The public’s increasing use of these platforms has generated many positive benefits for society, but it has also given rise to some troubling trends.

“Google is among the dominant firms in this field.  As such, given the public’s widespread use and reliance on its products and services, there are legitimate questions regarding the company’s policies and practices, including with respect to content moderation and the protection of user data privacy.

“But before we delve into these questions, I must first dispense with a completely illegitimate issue, which is the fantasy, dreamed up by some conservatives, that Google and other online platforms have an anti-conservative bias.

“As I have said repeatedly, no credible evidence supports this right-wing conspiracy theory. I have little doubt that my Republican colleagues will spend much of their time presenting a laundry list of anecdotes and out-of-context statements made by Google employees as supposed evidence of anti-conservative bias.  But none of that will actually make it true.   And even if Google were deliberately discriminating against conservative viewpoints—just as Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting discriminate against progressive ones—that would be its right, as a private company, to do so.

“But we should not let the delusions of the far right distract us from the real issues that should be the focus of today’s hearing.  For example, we should examine what Google is doing to stop hostile foreign powers from using its platform to spread false information, in order to harm our political discourse.

“It has been more than two years since the 2016 election, yet this Committee has not held a single hearing focused on Russia’s campaign to manipulate online platforms to undermine American democracy—even though it is the consensus view of our Intelligence Community that Russia engaged in a massive disinformation campaign to influence the 2016 election.

“I hope that Mr. Pichai can tell us what actions Google has taken to counter this unprecedented attack, and what gaps remain in its defenses.  This will help Congress determine what more can be done to further insulate our democratic processes from foreign interference. 

“We should also examine how Google enforces community standards that prohibit racist or bigoted threats, and other inappropriate conduct. While Internet platforms have produced many societal benefits, they have also provided a new tool for those seeking to stoke racial and ethnic hatred.  The presence of hateful conduct and content on these platforms has been made all the more alarming by the recent rise in hate-motivated violence.  According to statistics recently released by the FBI, reported incidents of hate crimes rose by 17 percent in 2017, compared to 2016, marking the third consecutive year that such reports have increased. 

“The horrific massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the recent murder of an African-American couple in a Kentucky grocery store, and the killing of an Indian engineer last year in Kansas are, sadly, not isolated outbursts of violence, but are the most salient examples of a troubling trend.  We should consider to what extent Google, and other online platforms, have been used to foment and to disseminate such hatred, and how these platforms can play a constructive role in combatting its spread.

“As the dominant player in its field, Google possesses significant market power.  It is also useful to examine its policies and practices to ensure that other companies are able to compete in an open and fair marketplace.

“There are also concerns about the prevalence of pirated material available on Google and other Internet platforms at the expense of legitimate content.

“Finally, it is important to know what Google is doing to protect its users’ data privacy and data security.  The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Google discovered last March that a bug in its social media platform Google+ (Google Plus) had exposed the private profile data of up to 500,000 users to third party developers, but it opted not to disclose the issue publicly, or even to those who may have been affected.  And just yesterday, the company announced that it had discovered another Google Plus bug that may have exposed the private profile data of 52 million users.   

“While Google has so far found no evidence that developers were abusing these bugs, or that any user profile data had been misused, incidents like this still raise legitimate questions about what types of data exposures a company is obligated to publicly disclose.  It also raises questions about how much control users should have over their data, and how such control should be regulated.    

“I am also disturbed by recent reports that Google is developing a search engine for the Chinese mainland market.  According to these reports, this search engine would not only accommodate Chinese government censors, it would allow the Chinese government to track individuals by linking search terms to the user’s mobile phone number.         

“Unfortunately, in this, our 4th, hearing devoted to fictitious allegations of conservative bias by Internet companies—we will waste more time and more taxpayer money on elevating well-worn right-wing conspiracy theories instead of the substantive issues that should be the focus of today’s hearing.  Our Committee can—and must—do better.

“I yield back the balance of my time.”

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