Senator Ted Cruz told a top Google executive for Tuesday that “more and more Americans demand accountability from Big Tech,” alleging the Silicon Valley giant is biased against conservatives.
The Texas Republican, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, held a hearing focused on Google and its content policies Tuesday.
Cruz said Google has unprecedented control over what people hear, watch, read, and say pointing to the 90% of internet searches in the U.S. conducted through the search engine.
“This is a staggering amount of power to ban speech, manipulate search results, destroy rivals, and shape culture,” Cruz said.
Cruz’s statement also referred to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which gives tech companies legal immunity from the content that is published on their platforms He said that tech companies get a perk or subsidy thanks to the law, but that implicit in that law was an agreement from companies like Google that they wouldn’t discriminate based on political viewpoint.
Cruz said that, when that law was written, it was done so under the assumption that “there wouldn’t be a conservative internet and a liberal internet: just the internet,” but that bargain is falling apart.
“The American people are instead subject to both overt censorship and covert manipulation,” Cruz said. “If Big Tech cannot provide us with evidence that it’s not playing Big Brother with its immense powers, we don’t need to give them a subsidy through Section 230.”
Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii dismissed Cruz’s concerns and said that conservative claims have already been debunked.
“The calendar says that it’s July 16th, but it feels like Groundhog Day in the U.S. Senate,” Hirono quipped.
Today’s discussion isn’t the first time that Cruz has grilled Google over these issues. He brought up allegations of conservative censorship back in June and also called out Google’s leadership for donating $1.3 million to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign while donating nothing to Trump.
Karan Bhatia, the vice president and global head of government affairs and public policy at Google, pushed back Tuesday against the idea that Google was biased against conservatives.
“Google and YouTube need to be useful for everyone, regardless of race, nationality, gender, religion, or political leanings,” Bhatia said. “We therefore have a strong business incentive to prevent anyone from interfering with the integrity of our products or the results we provide to our users.”
“So let me be clear: Google is not politically biased,” Bhatia said.
Bhatia, a member of George W. Bush’s administration who has also worked for at right-leaning institutions like the Heritage Foundation and the Claremont Institute, said Google’s 100,000 employees have a wide range of views, nationalities, and backgrounds.
And he claimed that Google doesn’t discriminate against conservatives, pointing to studies carried out by Google’s data scientists that show click-through rates for the official House or Senate websites on search results pages “showed no difference in these metrics based on whether the member was a Republican or a Democrat.”
Cruz is likely to also grill the Google executive over not just political bias, but how its results and suggestions could be altered for business purposes.
This hearing comes amid increased scrutiny for big tech companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook, all of which could be the subject of possible antitrust investigations by either the Justice Department of Federal Trade Commission.
Following the opening remarks, today’s hearing is expected to cover discussions of content-based discrimination, which deals with tech company limitations on problems like threats of violence, versus viewpoint-based discrimination, which centers around allegations that tech companies are suppressing conservative speech.
Cruz and other Republicans on the panel will likely press Google on its alleged biases, its invasion of privacy and its data collection practices, the way it markets itself to children, and how it conducts itself while doing business with foreign adversaries.
Google will also likely be asked about allegations made in recent days by Peter Thiel — a prominent Trump supporter, Silicon Valley investor, and founder of data analysis company Palantir, a Google competitor — that the company has been compromised in some way by Chinese intelligence. Trump said earlier Tuesday that his administration would investigate those allegations.
Today’s hearing will also include a second panel of witnesses, including Dennis Prager, the president of the internet-based Prager University, who will testify about how his company’s videos have been treated by Google and YouTube; Robert Epstein, a research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, who will testify that Google’s search algorithm is biased against conservatives; Francesa Tripodi, a professor and researcher at James Madison University, who will testify that there is no such thing as a neutral Google search; and Andy Parker, the father of murdered journalist Alison Parker, who will testify about the dangers posed by conspiracy theories on the web.