Not too long ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee shamed Google for refusing to send a top executive to join other Silicon Valley executives in answering questions about foreign meddling during the 2016 presidential elections.
Google’s no-show was depicted by an empty chair.
Now, Google CEO Sundar Pichai is voluntarily taking the hot seat tomorrow as he testifies before a House Judiciary committee hearing exploring the company’s data collection practices. The executive, whose company was once a darling of the Obama administration, is likely to face a tough grilling in his inaugural appearance before Congress.
“We recognize the important role of governments, including this Committee, in setting rules for the development and use of technology,” Pichai said in formal testimony submitted ahead of the hearing, in an attempt to start off on a positive note with legislators.
Pichai’s remarks seek to head off criticism from Republicans, who’ve accused Google of liberal bias. It’s a widely held view among the GOP and right-leaning independents, 65% of whom told Pew Research Center earlier this year that they believe the major tech companies support the views of liberals over conservatives.
“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,” Pichai wrote. “We are a company that provides platforms for diverse perspectives and opinions — and we have no shortage of them among our own employees.”
Pichai’s remarks also anticipate questions about Google’s possible plans to re-enter the Chinese market. In his prepared testimony, he portrays Google as an American company with deep American roots — one that is dedicated to “the free flow of information” and cherishes “the values and freedoms that have allowed us to grow and serve so many users.”
The Google executive, who charts his own immigrant journey from India in his testimony, sought to dispel perceptions of Google as a corporate island, whose Silicon Valley address is distinctly out of vogue among some in Congress.
“Over the years our footprint has expanded far beyond California to states such as Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma and Alabama,” Pichai said. “Today in the U.S., we’re growing faster outside of the Bay Area than within it.”
Pichai also underscored the company’s contributions to the U.S. economy. Over the past three, he said, it has added more than 24,000 employees and paid over $43 billion to its U.S. partners across its various businesses, which include search, YouTube, and the Android mobile platform.
The prepared remarks don’t address one topic that’s likely to come up. The company announced today that it would accelerate plans to down Google Plus, its long-struggling social network, after uncovering a bug that exposed the personal information of 52.5 million users. The company said in a blog post that it would shutter Google Plus in April, instead of waiting until August.