When Google Chief Sundar Pichai addressed Congress for the first time on Tuesday, several representatives grilled the executive on the company’s potential reentry into China and Google’s ability to track the movement of its users. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, on the other hand, had a more pressing concern: why does a picture of President Trump show up when users search the keyword “idiot” on Google?
“I think it’s important to talk about how search works,” Rep. Lofgren, a Democrat representing a large chunk of Silicon Valley, said to Pichai. “Right now, if you Google the word ‘idiot’ under images, a picture of Donald Trump comes up. I just did that. How would that happen? How does search work, so that that would occur?”
Pichai — who repeatedly said Google has no political bias during his testimony — proceeded to give Rep. Lofgren a technical breakdown of how search works.
“For any time you type in a keyword, we, as Google, have gone out and crawled and stored copies of billions of web pages in our index, and 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,” Pichai said. “And based on that, at any given time, we try to rank and find the best results for that query.”
Lofgren, acknowledging the fear many conservatives harbor over potentially manipulated search results, added: “So it’s not some little man, sitting behind the curtain figuring out what we’re going to show the user, it’s basically a compilation of what users are generating and trying to sort through that information.”
Pichai, after mentioning Google served “over three trillion searches” last year, said the company doesn’t “manually intervene on any particular searches.”
As Lofgren closed her five minute speaking window, she certainly sounded like someone that represents many Google employees. She noted that only 20 percent of Santa Clara County voted for President Trump during the 2016 U.S. election, so it should be no surprise Google’s workforce “would reflect that general political outcome.”
She added: “That has nothing to do with the algorithms and really [the] automated process that serves us. If we didn’t have Google, we wouldn’t be able to find any information in the efficient way that we do.”
Apparently Lofgren isn’t a big fan of Bing.