Google's Sergey Brin calls 2016 election 'offensive' in leaked video

Remarks by the search giant's leadership may draw more scrutiny from conservatives, who accuse the company of bias.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read

Google co-founder Sergey Brin remarked on the 2016 election in a leaked video.

James Martin/CNET

Google co-founder Sergey Brin told a company gathering that he felt offended by the 2016 election, according to a leaked video published by Breitbart on Wednesday, comments that will likely fuel criticism among conservatives that the search giant is biased against them.

The video of Google's weekly "TGIF" meeting was taken days after Donald Trump was elected president. The TGIF meetings are typically free-ranging discussions, with leadership offering its thoughts on the company's projects and employees asking questions about everything from the lunch menu to developments at the company.

"Let's face it, most people here are pretty upset and pretty sad because of the election," Brin, who also serves as president of Google parent company Alphabet, said in the video. "As an immigrant and a refugee, I find this election deeply offensive, and I'm sure many of you do too."

Brin wasn't the only executive at the search giant to comment on the election.

"There is a lot of fear within Google. I've gotten a lot of emails ... there are people who are very afraid," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said. "I grew up in India and there were many things wrong, but it was a democratic country and we've gone through many, many, many hairy moments like this."

At one point, Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat appears to be holding back tears when talking about election night. "It was this massive kick in the gut that we were going to lose," she said. "And it was really painful."

The video is likely to ramp up scrutiny of Google among conservatives, who have recently accused the company of political bias in the company's services. The leak comes a week after Google skipped a high-profile hearing on Capitol Hill, at which Congress grilled Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey over election integrity, security and the perceived leanings of the company's algorithms. The decision to not send Pichai or Alphabet CEO Larry Page drew widespread ire from lawmakers.

A Google spokeswoman said the remarks at the meeting have no bearing on how Google builds its products.

"At a regularly scheduled all-hands meeting, some Google employees and executives expressed their own personal views in the aftermath of a long and divisive election season," the spokeswoman said. "Nothing was said at that meeting, or any other meeting, to suggest that any political bias ever influences the way we build or operate our products. To the contrary, our products are built for everyone, and we design them with extraordinary care to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without regard to political viewpoint."

That might not be enough to convince Trump, who last month accused Google of political bias. He tweeted that Google's search results are "RIGGED," saying the company is "suppressing voices of Conservatives."

"I think Google has really taken advantage of a lot of people," he told reporters later that day. "Google and Twitter and Facebook, they're really treading on very, very troubled territory, and they have to be careful."

Then, a day later, he tweeted a video claiming Google promoted former President Barack Obama's State of the Union addresses every January but not his. Trump added the hashtag #StopTheBias. 

Google denied the accusation, saying the search engine's homepage did indeed promote Trump's address this past January. Google said it didn't promote either Trump's or Obama's addresses from their first years in office because those speeches aren't technically considered State of the Union addresses. (A screenshot from the Internet Archive, which keeps a record of what appears on web domains backed up Google's explanation.)

Last month, Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to re-examine Google's search and digital advertising practices, calling reports of anticompetitive conduct by the company "disquieting."

Silicon Valley giants are only bound to get more scrutiny from Washington. On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation said it had invited representatives from Google, Apple and Amazon and other companies to testify about data privacy.  

CNET's Sean Hollister contributed to this report.

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