Google Controversies Under Sundar Pichai Reign

Google, the tech giant has always been in news. More so, for the high-profile controversies it has become a part of, off-lately. Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO since August 10, 2015, presided over a hearing with House Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C., addressing all the Google controversies, unfolded so far.

Undermentioned is a list of the Top 10 controversies that haunted Google time and again.

Allegation of biased search results

Back in August 2018, Google is charged with the allegation of being biased against conservatives when showing up search results. It has been said that the liberal employees of Google put their vision and political leanings into action by deliberately creating biased algorithms/systems to sideline conservative viewpoints.

The big question that contributed to the accusation: Why a picture of President Donald Trump comes into sight when the word ‘Idiot’ is googled under the Images category?

Pichai’s Take:

Pichai denied the allegation by saying that it is not Google’s approach to bake its algorithms on the basis of any political bias.

He further explained that Google matches the keywords against web pages and ranks them based on more than 200 signals, including relevance, freshness, and popularity. Moreover, the neutral search algorithms also consider the context in which the word is being used by the public.

Pichai suppressed his point by quoting that it is manually impossible for an individual or group of individuals to tamper with any particular search result.

Controversial plans to get business from China

The tech giant’s secretive efforts to bring China back into its business picture is another one in the enlisted Google controversies. It has been over a decade since Google publicly withdrew it services from China in protest over censorship. However,  it is speculated that the company cannot let go of the huge Chinese market and hence making substantial attempts to serve users in China.

Recently, Google is under soaring scrutiny from its employees and US politicians for its latest attempt of programming a censored search engine for the country. The search product under development, codenamed Dragonfly, complies with Chinese local laws while producing the search results.

Pichai’s Take:

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai initially emphasized his commitment to serve Chinese users. However, in the House Judiciary Committee hearing, he deflected the query, saying that there were no concrete plans to launch a product and the work going on in this direction is only exploratory.

Google + data breach

October 2018 witnessed a fresh high-profile Google controversy. A shocking report was revealed by the tech giant wherein it admitted the accidental loss of the personal data of millions of its users. It was called the outcome of a data-exposing bug that crept its way into the social network and go unnoticed for a long period of about 3 years.

It has been said that the user’s non-public data like name, age, email address, occupation, and gender was exposed to third party app developers. Additionally, Google chose not to inform its users about the massive breach in fear of damaged reputation and unflattering comparisons to Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica Scandal.

Google’s Take:

Google claims about having no evidence of misuse of the totally exposed data. It also confirmed that the software was fixed as soon it was discovered in March 2018. In addition, an announcement was made to shut down the social network platform by August 2019.

Radicalization on YouTube

YouTube, the video-sharing platform, owned by Google, is accused of being one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century. It has been stated that the platform promotes and steers users toward conspiracy-related content, violent extremism, and hate-filled speeches through its ‘Recommended’ or ‘Trending’ videos section.

It was argued that the video repository is powered with the rabbit-hole effect that leads the user down a handful of videos that contain extremist content. You may begin with watching a knowledgeable video and then you get poked with recommendations of a somewhat extreme video which starts autoplaying by itself. If you keep following the recommendations, you end up watching  some really disturbing content.

YouTube’s Take:

YouTube’s chief product officer Neal Mohan completely denied the existence of the rabbit hole effect influencing its recommendation algorithm. He conveyed that the company has no business interest in pushing users towards extremist content. He further added that the site presents impartial suggestions in its side panel and leave it to the user to choose and watch.

However, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai confirmed that the company is already working to curb problematic content and admitted that there’s more work to be done.

Misuse of Location data

Consumer groups across many European countries have built on the record of Google controversies. The internet giant was accused of mishandling location tracking tools. The giant search engine is charged with the allegation of deceptively using the location data to extract more information like the user’s browsing habits, political leanings etc.

In addition to this, the company was also accused of keeping track of the user’s location even when the Location History option is turned OFF. It was also argued that the company use manipulative tricks to tailor ads according to user’s personal data.

Google’s Take:

Google, on the other hand, cleared that it can collect and use location data unless and  until the ‘Location History’ and ‘Web and App activity’ both are turned OFF. Furthermore, it stated that users are provided with clear descriptions of all the tools and they can turn them OFF or ON as per their choice.

Forced Arbitration policy

Nov 1, 2018 witnessed the walkout of around 20,000 Google employees owing to a ‘New York Times’ article. The powerful article exposed Google of paying senior executive Andy Rubin, a $90 million exit package, on accusation of sexual harassment against him.

Moreover, the tech giant was denounced for forcing employees into arbitration for settling disputes. The 20,000 workers demanded to call-off this forced arbitration policy.

Google’s Take:

Recently, Google announced that it would make arbitration optional for sexual harassment and assault cases. It also agreed to the demand of workers to be accompanied by a companion during an HR investigation.

However, the policy change would not apply to former employees with unresolved disputes. Additionally, Google promised that it would put an end to the policy for the temporary staff, contract workers and vendors, in the near-future.

Intolerance towards Conservatives

Back in August 2017, a Google engineer James Damore became the leading cast of another Google controversy. The engineer wrote a controversial post titled ‘Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber’, which was leaked into the Press and went viral in no time. The post was subjected on Google’s work culture and diversity policies and resulted in massive outrage inside and outside Google.

In his memo, Damore also claimed that women are less suited to technology roles owing to the biologically differences.

Google’s Take:

CEO Sundar Pichai made the final decision of firing James Damore, pointing his duty to foster a safe workplace for his employees and outweighing their right to free speech, in this particular instance.

However, Google controversies were on rise, after James Damore filed an class-action lawsuit charging the tech giant for discrimination against conservatives. The company is looking forward to defend against Damore’s lawsuit in court.

Project Maven

The list of Google controversies is a long one. Next, in the line is its involvement in Project Maven. It has been said that Google has partnered with Pentagon to help in analyzing images captured from aerial drones. The project used artificial intelligence and machine learning to differentiate people and objects in the drone footage.

However, in the wake of these revelations, a dozen employees resigned from their services to the tech giant. Additionally, more than 3000 employees protested and demanded the tech giant to sever the contract with the US Department of Defense.

Google’s Take:

Google’s Cloud CEO Diane Greene announced that the company will not renew its contract for Project Maven post the expiration of current contract in 2019.

Anti-Trans Controversy

Google has just formed a new 8 person external council for its AI projects. However, the council has a fresh Google controversy rolled in, for involving an anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ  and anti-immigrant personnel ‘Kay Cole James’ to be a part of it.

A ‘Googlers against Transphobia’ group of around 500 Google employees circulated a petition denouncing the company and demanding James to be removed from the council.

Google’s Take:

The internet giant announced that it had dissolved the AI External Advisory Council intended to provide inputs and guidance outside AI experts.

Tax Avoidance

Google has always digged in controversy for avoiding paying tax for years. It has been reported that Google has moved its profits to its other affiliates, based in Bermuda, the Netherlands and Ireland taking advantage of their low corporate tax rates.

Google’s Take:

Google reacted on the allegation saying it pays all of the taxes due and comply with the tax laws of every country they operate in around the world.

However, the tax strategy known as the double Irish, Dutch sandwich allows Google to avoid triggering US income taxes or European withholding taxes on the funds.




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