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Google CEO to be quizzed by Congress for first time amid mounting questions over privacy

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said Monday that the internet giant steers clear of ‘political bias,’ arguing that this is a core principle of its business to maintain trust of users.

Pichai also said privacy and security are essential parts of Google’s mission, and that the company is committed to working with the US government ‘to keep our country safe and secure.’

The prepared remarks released Monday, a day ahead of Pichai’s appearance at the House Judiciary Committee, come with Google under fire on several fronts, on issues around political bias, data security and its domination of internet search.

Pichai strongly denied claims made by by President Donald Trump and his backers earlier this year that Google operates with a political agenda that suppresses conservative voices.

‘Users also look to us to provide accurate, trusted information,’ he said. ‘We work hard to ensure the integrity of our products, and we’ve put a number of checks and balances in place to ensure they continue to live up to our standards.’

Pichai said Google strives to offer ‘platforms for diverse perspectives and opinions’ without promoting its own agenda.

‘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,’ he said.

Pichai said that Google — which earlier Monday speeded up the shutdown of its Google+ social network after a second data security bug was discovered — supports federal privacy legislation, without offering specifics.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai will testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in his first formal appearance before lawmakers

Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee are promising tough questions at Tuesday's hearing, which begins at 10 am ET

Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee are promising tough questions at Tuesday’s hearing, which begins at 10 am ET

‘Protecting the privacy and security of our users has long been an essential part of our mission,’ he said.

The tech CEO also sought to allay concerns that Google was snubbing American values by its decision this year to drop out of the bidding for a major Pentagon cloud computing project.

‘Even as we expand into new markets we never forget our American roots,’ he said.

‘It’s no coincidence that a company dedicated to the free flow of information was founded right here in the US. As an American company, we cherish the values and freedoms that have allowed us to grow and serve so many users.’

Topics are expected to include Google’s handling and protection of user data, privacy practices, disinformation campaigns, and its plans for China, including the development of a search engine that will comply with Beijing’s censorship rules. 

Republicans are expected to ask about concerns that conservative voices are being stifled online and in search results.  

And Pichai could get asked about the company’s sexual harassment policy.

Last month, more than 20,000 Google employees around the world walked out in protest of the company’s handling of sexual harassment and discrimination claims. 

But the appearance will also test Pichai’s ability to be the public face of the search engine giant.

‘It remains to be seen whether he can step up and be the kind of diplomat and statesman Google requires him to be,’ Arun Sundararajan, a business professor at New York University, told The Wall Street Journal.  ‘He has, for most of his career, been a product guy.’ 

Pichai was the White House on Thursday for a meeting between White House officials and tech execs, including representatives from Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and Qualcomm.

President Donald Trump stopped by but it was Ivanka Trump who took the lead. 

The use of artificial intelligence was the main item on the agenda. 

Pichai is dipping his toe in the political well in the wake of waves caused by his predecessor Eric Schmidt, who had powerful political allies in both parties and counted former President Barack Obama as a friend. 

Google had some of its political peaks in the Obama years when it beat an antitrust probe and secured favorable policies on net neutrality, online liability and copyright issues. 

But the political winds have shifted since then for online companies.

Lawmakers are examining the need for stronger federal protections governing the collection of online data and some Republicans complain there is a suppression of conservative speech. 

President Trump has tweeted his complaints about the company, charging Google’s search results are rigged.  

Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee have made clear that they don’t plan to go easy on Google in the hearing and Pichai could face the same anger Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg saw when he sat before Congress in April. 

‘Americans put their trust in big tech companies to honor freedom of speech and champion open dialogue, and it is Congress’ responsibility to the American people to make sure these tech giants are transparent and accountable in their practices,’ said Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) in a statement to Axios.

Democratic Rep. David Cicilline,  who sits on the committee, told The New York Times: ‘We need to restore competition and protect our rights online.’ He added: ‘The promise of an open internet is fundamentally threatened by the ability of a few powerful gatekeepers to bully competitors, cripple innovation and exploit consumers. This must be a top priority going forward.’ 

Pichai's predecessor Eric Schmidt was close with President Barack Obama

Pichai’s predecessor Eric Schmidt was close with President Barack Obama

Lawmakers left an empty chair in September when Google skipped a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing

Lawmakers left an empty chair in September when Google skipped a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing

Pichai has kept a low profile since becoming Google’s chief in 2015. 

A native of Chennai, India, he worked his way up the ranks at the company, starting as an engineer. 

He has already made overtures. 

The company angered lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in September, when it failed to send top leaders to appear at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing along Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey. Lawmakers left an empty chair at the witness table to symbolize Google’s absence. 

Pichai flew to Washington D.C. around that time for individual meetings with lawmakers – and agreed to Tuesday’s committee hearing.