Google CEO Sundar Pichai is no longer an empty chair: In his public debut in Congress, the tech executive is planning to strike a patriotic note in response to several recent controversies involving the company.
Pichai is likely to face questions about privacy, Google's work on a censored search tool for China, allegations of anti-conservative bias and a recent decision to not renew a Pentagon contract for artificial intelligence that helps analyze drone video, following protests from employees.
"Even as we expand into new markets we never forget our American roots. It's no coincidence that a company dedicated to the free flow of information was founded right here in the US," Pichai wrote in prepared testimony. "As an American company, we cherish the values and freedoms that have allowed us to grow and serve so many users."
Earlier this year, Google's parent company, Alphabet, decided to not send an executive to a big hearing with other tech companies about disinformation, so Tuesday's hearing before the House Judiciary Committee has been a long time coming. Incensed by Google's absence at the time, lawmakers had left an empty seat marked with the company's name.
A major thread that Pichai is likely to face Tuesday is the allegation by President Trump and some Republican lawmakers that searches on Google and YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, are politically biased to sideline conservative views. Google has long denied this, and Pichai does so indirectly in his prepared remarks:
"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. We are a company that provides platforms for diverse perspectives and opinions — and we have no shortage of them among our own employees."
Last month, as NPR has reported, several Google employees went public with their opposition to the tech giant's plan — code-named Dragonfly — to build a search engine adjusted to China's censorship demands, blocking certain websites and search terms as determined by the Chinese government.
This would have marked a return of a censored version of Google to China, which the company exited in 2010 after tensions with Beijing and a backlash in the United States. Google has said the censored search product, first revealed by the website The Intercept in August, was not planned for immediate release.
Google has also recently decided to not renew its so-called Project Maven contract with the Pentagon, following protests from employees concerned that the company's artificial intelligence could be used for drone strikes.
As The New York Times has reported: "About 4,000 Google employees signed a petition demanding 'a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.' A handful of employees also resigned in protest." This was in contrast to wide-reaching military work done by Google's peers such as Amazon and Microsoft.
Google has also decided not to bid for a $10 billion cloud-computing contract with the Defense Department, citing as reasons the Google didn't qualify for part of the work and that the company "couldn't be assured" that the project would align with its corporate values for artificial-intelligence work.