indica News Bureau –
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal took on fellow Indian American and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who appeared before the Congressional committee for a grilling by lawmakers on December 11, over issues of sexual harassment and hate speech.
Jayapal asked Pichai to voluntarily commit to ending forced arbitration for all internal employee issues around discrimination, not just issues of sexual harassment.
“Forcing people into arbitration when they have already experienced a violation of their basic rights I think is a deep injustice and it subjects people who have already been victimized to further victimization and we have seen research that shows that it discourages people from coming forward to report abuses to begin with,” she said.
Pichai said Google’s arbitration agreements did not require any confidentiality provisions.
“That is how we have done it. But for sexual harassment, we agreed that it should be up to the employees and we give them a choice,” he said.
“We are definitely looking into this further. It is an area where I have gotten feedback personally from our employees, so we are definitely reviewing what we could do and you know, I am looking forward to consulting and happy to think about more changes here,” he added.
Google and other big tech companies like Facebook and Uber have recently ended forced arbitration for sexual harassment claims so that employees can bring those claims to the public.
Pichai endured nearly three-and-a-half hours of questioning in front of the House Judiciary Committee on a wide range of issues, including potential political bias on the company’s platforms, its plans for a censored search app in China and its privacy practices.
Alphabet Inc’s revenue went up 81% and the company’s stock price rose by 76 percent since Pichai’s appointment as the CEO.
But the year 2018 threw him a curveball with employees revolting against the company’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations and lawmakers threatening Google with regulations.
Jayapal also asked Pichai about Google’s response ability to moderate hate speech on its platforms, to which he replied: “We feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to moderate hate speech. You know, we have defined hate speech clearly as inciting violence or hatred towards groups of people. …we are committed to doing more here,” Pichai replied.
The UN high commissioner for human rights had recently said that social media played a role in perpetuating genocide against the Rohingyas of Myanmar.
After a long string of such congressional hearings over the last two years, this hearing was Pichai’s first appearance before the Republican-controlled House.
Noted Indian-American technology entrepreneur and academic Vivek Wadhwa slammed the overall testimony as a ‘dud’.
“Silicon Valley can outsmart Washington DC any day. These people know their stuff and can stand up to Congressmen and respond to them very effectively. So, I had no hope that anything worthwhile will come of this, so it was a dud, Wadhwa told Fox News.
Wadhwa, who is a Distinguished Fellow and professor at the Carnegie Mellon University of Engineering at Silicon Valley, came down heavily on the politicians for asking “silly questions” at the hearing.
“The question we should be asking is why Google, Facebook, and Amazon are allowed to capture all this data? They know everything about us. The fact is that your Android devices… they can hear your emotions… All of these devices are capturing and we don’t know what they are doing with that information. That’s how scary it is.
These people (technology companies) are getting away with this because our politicians get into these hearings and ask dumb questions that they have been asking them. The questions are really silly. I am surprised they couldn’t come up with something more insightful over here,” Wadhwa said.
Wadhwa stressed that the US needs to make some fundamental changes in its laws, which regulate how the data can be used. He stated that the right to privacy, right to be forgotten, right to own our own information is the need of the hour.
Meanwhile, Pichai had something to cheer about when Jayapal thanked him for bringing “great value to the US”.
“Let me just take a point of personal privilege to say that I was born in the same state as you in India and I am excited to see you leading a company and continuing to show that immigrants to this country contribute great value, in spite of some of the rhetoric we hear. Thank you, Mr. Pichai,” she told the Google CEO and highlighted the point that both were born in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Some 4 million of India’s talent pool now live in the US, representing 1.3 percent of the total population. Over 20 percent of the engineers working at Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Intel, Google, Facebook, and other high-tech companies are from India.
Jayapal, 53, came to the US at the age of 16 to study at Georgetown University before getting her MBA at Northwestern and going on to work on Wall Street.
A graduate from IIT Kharagpur, Pichai, 46, began his career in the US working as a product manager at Applied Materials and then as a management consultant at McKinsey & Co. He was hired by Google in 2004.