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Google CEO Sundar Pichai pens memo warning employees against bias

Pichai says the idea that Google alters search results to favor a political agenda is "absolutely false." He also says employees will be held accountable.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Google CEO Sundar Pichai

James Martin/CNET

Google's CEO sent a memo to employees Friday saying the company doesn't engineer its services to privilege any political view and warning staff that anyone violating that policy will be taken to task, according to various media reports.

"We do not bias our products to favor any political agenda," Sundar Pichai said in the reported memo, seen by The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets. "The trust our users place in us is our greatest asset and we must always protect it. If any Googler ever undermines that trust, we will hold them accountable."

Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Pichai's note comes a day after a report in the Journal said Google employees discussed changes to the company's web search functions to counter the Trump administration's controversial travel ban that went into effect last year.

"Recent news stories reference an internal email to suggest that we would compromise the integrity of our search results for a political end," Pichai reportedly wrote in the Friday missive. "This is absolutely false."

It also follows the publication last week of a video from 2016 that shows Google co-founder Sergey Brin telling a company gathering that he felt offended by the results of the 2016 US presidential election.

Last month, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to accuse Google of manipulating search results to suppress conservatives viewpoints. Earlier, after notorious far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was kicked off Facebook, iTunes, Twitter and other services, Trump alleged that social media companies were discriminating against the right.

Congress has held several hearings to explore how tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter deal with content on their sites, among other issues. In general, the hearings have been divided along partisan lines when it comes to bias, with some Republicans asking questions about a perceived anticonservative bent, and Democrats focusing on queries about how sites have let themselves be played by propagandists and others looking to spread misinformation and sow division in the US.

At the start of September, the US Department of Justice said Attorney General Jeff Sessions would meet with state attorneys general later in the month to discuss whether social media companies are "intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms."

On Friday, Bloomberg reported it had obtained a draft of a potential White House executive order that asks certain government agencies to recommend actions that would "protect competition among online platforms and address online platform bias." The order, reportedly in its preliminary stages, asks US antitrust authorities to "thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws."

The White House didn't respond to a request for comment. Later Friday, however, Lindsay Walters, the deputy White House press secretary, told The Washington Post that "Although the White House is concerned about the conduct of online platforms and their impact on society, this document is not the result of an official White House policymaking process."

First published Sept. 22, 10:28 a.m. PT
Updates, 11:34 a.m.: Adds mention of potential White House executive order; 11:47 a.m.: Includes mention of Sessions meeting with attorneys general; 1:52 p.m.: Adds mention of Walters' comment about the reported executive order.

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