Sundar Pichai testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee this morning during a 3.5 hour session that ranged from accusations of Search result bias, interference by foreign powers, and more. One area that Congress was particularly critical on was China and Project Dragonfly. In an interview later in the day, the Google CEO suggested other areas in China, instead of search, that the company could look into.
Pichai sat down with the Washington Post after his hearing to discuss and reiterate various points made earlier in the day. The CEO had especially interesting comments about Project Dragonfly and a possible return to China.
It has been widely reported that Google was at least developing a search engine that would abide by Chinese censorship laws and block results about protests, human rights, and other sensitive topics. Pichai is an advocate of bringing Google back to China because of the over one billion population.
He — and others — have argued that having a more significant presence in the market is key to organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible, per Google’s mission. The obvious backlash is that the company would be curtailing a Chinese user’s access to information and helping further state censorship and oppression.
Google argued its “American roots” and principles in front of Congress. Pichai also offered to discuss and brief lawmakers before a possible return to China.
Talking to WaPo, Pichai noted that Google “may not end up doing search.” He reiterates that Dragonfly is tasked with “trying to understand a market.” He also asks, “Can we explore and serve users in China, in areas like education and healthcare?”
Both areas could still be read as features of a search engine rather than independent products. For example, Pichai could have been discussing health in the context of having Google’s Search product be better than local competitors, especially in regards to health results; a point he noted when last asked about Dragonfly in public.
However, it raises the interesting possibility that the company could try developing other services that are less likely to offend employees.
While education could be equally contentious in China, healthcare might be less so. One future product could be a comprehensive offering to help manage overall wellbeing. In recent weeks, Google Health has been moving to consolidate the company’s and Alphabet’s desperate efforts into one team. Google recently hired a new leader for a division with a possible purview ranging from Google Fit to Search and AI.