Members of the House of Representatives judicial committee today questioned Google’s opinion closely CEO on the company’s intentions in China, following reports this summer, is planning a controversial return to the market despite local censorship of internet services.
Mountain View withdrew its search engine from China in 2010, under pressure from censored search results. He also cited cyberattacks originating in the country as a factor in his decision to leave.
So Congress wanted to know what exactly had changed that Google is considering reversing that exit, and how doing so would not contradict its own “core values.”
A Pichai who wasn’t overly comfortable stayed true to a qualified line on the subject, saying Congress Google has no plans “at this time” to launch in China, leaving the door open for a launch at a future date.
At the same time, he pointed to Google’s “mission” to make information digitally accessible, to justify what he expressed as an internal and exploratory effort at this stage, saying that the company’s mission supports its continued interest in the market.
It did not mention the more than 800 million Chinese Internet users that Google could potentially add to its business if it returned to market as a factor in its calculations.
“At this time there are no plans to launch a search product in China,” Pichai told the committee. “In general, we are always looking for the best way to do it, it is part of our mission and our principles, to strive to provide information to users.”
“We always have tests, depending on all the countries we have operated in, reaching out and giving users more information has a very positive impact. And we feel that call, but at this time there are no plans to launch in China. To the extent that we ever get close to a position like that, I will be completely transparent, even with the policy makers here. And participate and consult widely. “
Earlier in the session, the committee was briefly interrupted by a person trying to enter the room with a sign displaying the Google logo superimposed on the Chinese flag.
The chair asked that the individual be removed and the door closed.
Asked directly if he would “avoid launching a censorship and surveillance tool in China while you are CEO of Google, “Pichai tread carefully in his reply, avoid making any outright commitments, but saying you would be “very considerate” about any relaunch.
“The congressman I promise to commit myself,” he said, beginning his response. “One of the things that is important to us as a company is our mission to provide information to users, so we always believe that it is our duty to explore the possibilities.” To give users access to information… I have that commitment, but as I said before, we will be very attentive and participate widely as we move forward. “
He was also asked directly if there are current discussions with any member of the Chinese government regarding the launch of the app. “This effort is currently an internal effort,” he responded to that, reiterating again that he would be “happy to consult / be transparent if we take steps to launch a product in China.”
When asked who was running the China project, Pichai also kept things vague, saying that Google’s “search teams” are doing, before adding: “But these are distributed efforts. It’s a limited effort internally at present. “.
One of the policy makers who questioned Pichai about Google’s intentions in China, Congressman David Cicilline, suggested that going back to market would be “completely inconsistent” with the AI principles recently announced by Google.
But at the end of his five-minute allotted questioning with the Google CEO, Cicilline said the concern for technologists working with undemocratic regimes “goes beyond Google, and frankly beyond China.”
“At a time of increasing authoritarianism around the world, when more leaders are using surveillance, censorship and repression against their own people, we are at a time when we must reassert American moral leadership,” he said, also requesting a letter. Open from a coalition of civil and human rights organizations, opposing the launch of a censored Google search engine for the Chinese market, to be submitted to the committee for registration.