Google Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sundar Pichai has said the internet giant currently has no solid plans for a censored version of its search engine specifically aimed at the Chinese market.
Pichai made the comments during a 3.5-hours hearing in front the House Judiciary Committee, during which legislators asked the CEO about reports about the censored search engine called Project Dragonfly and possible political bias in Google search results.
“Right now, there are no plans to launch search in China,” Pichai told the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
But Pichai did not deny that the company has been working on Project Dragonfly, with over 100 people assigned to it at one point.
Following the revelation of the project, human rights organisations, legislators and Google employees raised concerns about Google possibly complying with China’s stringent internet censorship and surveillance policies if it re-enters the Asian nation’s search engine market.
Google left China in 2010 after repeated confrontations with the Chinese government, leading to a full block of all of Google’s services, including YouTube, Gmail and Google Maps.
In August, over a thousand Google employees signed a petition joining Amnesty International in expressing their concern on the company’s plan to launch a heavily censored version of its search engine in China.
They called on Google to cancel the project, which would further restrict free speech in China.
Pichai, however, said entering the Chinese market with an adjusted version of its search engine would give “broad benefits” to China, refusing to go into details about what measures were being taken to comply with Chinese laws.
Google is not at the stage of discussion with the Chinese government he added, vowing that he would be “fully transparent” with policymakers if the company brings search products to China.
However, it is still unclear whether Google could launch their services there, as a Chinese government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters last month that it was unlikely Google would get clearance to launch a search service in 2019.
During the hearing, Pichai also had to answer questions about alleged bias in its search results, after President Donald Trump accused Google in August of rigging search results at the expense of Republican and conservative opinions.
“I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way,” Pichai said in response to the claims.
“To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests.”
“We build our products in a neutral way” he added.
Democrats on the committee also rejected the claim by their Republican peers as “fantasy,” with one Democrat claiming the search results highlighted more conservative voices.
Pichai also denied allegations the internet giant had paid for Latino voters’ transportation to election polls, saying the search engine helps people register to vote or find polling places.
“We don’t engage in partisan activities” he added.
Other issues Pichai was asked about was the possible demotion of rivals in shopping and travel searches, something European regulators fined the company $2.8bn for, and discriminatory conduct online.
Pichai said the company was “happy to engage” to discuss legislation.