Google currently has no plans to launch a search engine in China, its Indian-American CEO Sundar Pichai told lawmakers Tuesday as he dodged a series of questions from lawmakers who expressed concern over such a reported move by the internet giant.
His statement came while testifying before the House Judiciary Committee Hearing on ‘Transparency & Accountability: Examining Google and its Data Collection, Use, and Filtering Practices’.
“We have no plans to launch in China. We don’t have a search product there. Our core mission is to provide users access to information and getting access to information is an important human right,” Sundar Pichai told members of the House Judiciary Committee during a Congressional hearing on Google’s data collection practices.
“We are always compelled across the world to try hard to provide that information and but right now there are no plans to launch search in China. I’m committed to being fully transparent including with policymakers to the extent we ever develop plans to do that,” Pichai said, responding to a question from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.
Applauded Google for its 2010 stand of principle and democratic values over profits and came out of China, Jackson Lee said she is concerned that Google is now going back into China and upholding the dragonfly procedures which would help censor Chinese persons seeking a lifeline of democracy and freedom.
“How can you do that and what are you doing to minimise or to indicate that this is not best practices?” she asked.
Echoed Congressman Tom Marino.
“In 2010 Google left the Chinese marketplace due to concerns over hack–hacking attacks, censorship and how the Chinese government was possibly gaining access to data. I’m interested in what has changed since 2010 and how working with the Chinese government to censor research results, a part of Google’s core values,” he said.
“Right now, there are no plans for us to launch a search product in China. We are in general always looking to see how best it’s part of our core mission and our principle is to try hard to provide users with information. We always have evidence based on every country we operate in us reaching out and giving users to more information has a very positive impact and we feel that calling,” Pichai said.
“But right now, there are no plans to launch in China. To the extent that we ever approach a decision like that I will be fully transparent including with policymakers here and engage and consult widely,” he said.
Any time Google looks to operate in a country it would look at what the conditions are to operate.
“There are times in the past we have debated the conditions to operate and we explore a wide range of possibilities. Currently, it is an effort only internally for us. We are not doing this in China. And so you know but I am happy to consult back and be transparent if we plan something there,” he said.
Congressman David Cicilline said the operating environment in China has deteriorated with respect to surveillance censorship and the like since Google first made the decision in 2010 to leave.
In September, he had sent Pichai a letter along with 15 other colleagues raising serious concerns about reports that Google is planning to re-enter the Chinese market with an app-based search engine that would likely have to comply with strict censorship and surveillance requirements imposed by the Chinese government.
“Since then a widespread course of opposition to such a move has emerged including from lawmakers, leading human rights activists and a group of Google’s own employees. The environment has deteriorated,” Cicilline said.
Google, he said, is launching an app in that environment would seem to be completely inconsistent with Google’s recently launched AI principles which says it will not design or deploy technologies whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.
“It’s hard for me to imagine you could operate in the Chinese market under the current government framework and maintain a commitment to universal values such as freedom of expression and personal privacy. So I want to ask very specifically are any employees currently having product meetings on this Chinese project and if not, when did those end?” Cicilline asked.
“We have undertaken an internal effort but right now there are no plans to launch a search service in China as I said earlier… Currently we are not in discussions around launching a search product in China,” Pichai said.
Cicilline pressed Pichai further. “Will you Mr Pichai, rule out launching a tool for surveillance and censorship in China while you are CEO of Google?” he asked.
“Congressman, I commit to engaging one of the things which is important to us as a company. We have a stated mission of providing users with information and so we think it’s in our duty to explore possibilities, to give users access to information and I have that commitment but you know as I said earlier on this, we will be very thoughtful and we will engage widely as we make progress,” Pichai said.
In a separate letter, Cicilline and 15 other lawmakers and more than 50 human and civil rights organisations opposed the launch of a censored Google search engine for the Chinese market.
The letter alleged that the Chinese government is actively promoting its model of pervasive digital censorship and surveillance around the world.