US House grills Sundar Pichai on `idiot'-Trump link in Google search
13 December 2018
Google CEO Sundar Pichai had a difficult time explaining the algorithm that brings up images of President Donald Trump’s pictures while googling for ‘idiot’. During a three-and-a-half hour questioning by the House Judiciary Committee, legislators, mostly Republican, posed questions why the search for the word “idiot” on Google apparently saw a jump after it was found throwing up images of President Donald Trump.
Lawmakers were suspicious as the search for the word “idiot” on Google apparently saw a jump after it was found a few months ago that it threw up images of US President Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, lawmakers attempted to understand how Google search algorithms worked and asked the tech company’s CEO Sundar Pichai about this particular case.
Replying to a question by Republican congresswoman Zoe Lofgren during the grilling, Pichai said the search results are based on ranks that take into account over 200 factors, including relevance and popularity, to find the best results for a query.
“We take the keyword and match it against their pages and rank them based on over 200 signals. Things like relevance, freshness, popularity, how other people are using it. Based on that, at any given time, we try to rank and find the best search results for that query,” said Pichai.
The questioning came after Trump’s multiple tweets accusing Google’s search engine of promoting negative news articles about him, implying political bias as well.
The Google chief was also asked if it was an example of political bias in algorithms, which he denied. Still, some Republican lawmakers on the panel refused to believe an individual or a group of people at Google could not change the algorithms and manipulate the search results arbitrarily.
Pichai also faced a few bizarre, irrelevant questions from US Senators, like an Apple iPhone showing up inappropriate notification with bad language.
Pichai was asked by Iowa congressman (Republican) Steve King, as to why a notification popped up on his seven-year-old grand-daughter’s iPhone showing a picture of her grandfather (King) before an election, with inappropriate language around it.
To which, Pichai had to explain that the “iPhone is made by a different company,” drawing peals of laughter from the democrat’s bench.
Republican Ted Poe wanted to know about Google’s location tracking services. He asked Pichai if Google will track where he was sitting through his iPhone!
“If I stand up from where I’m sitting and if I walk over to the corner, does someone in Google know that I have moved that distance?”
To which Pichai explained that’s not how location tracking works, when the senator interrupts him.
“Look, it’s not a tough question! You make $100 million a year. You can tell me whether or not if I go to the corner of the room, somebody at Google knows it! Does Google know, through this phone, that I am moving over there and sitting next to Mr. Johnson?”
For the record, that’s not how Google’s location tracking works, although at most times it is fairly accurate down to 5 metres in open spaces, depending on the satellite lock the phone gets.
Pichai’s reply was a simple: “I won’t be able to answer that without looking at the iPhone.”
A few months ago Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg faced a similar grilling, as did Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, obviously to get a better grip on how technology works.