Google CEO Speaks Out on Antitrust, Privacy Concerns

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google-Getty-H 2019
Carsten Koall/Getty Images

"Privacy is at the heart of what we do," Sundar Pichai tells the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He also argued the tech giant doesn't pursue scale for scale's sake.

Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google and its parent company Alphabet, on Wednesday discussed the data privacy and antitrust concerns that people and regulators have raised about the company and other technology giants, saying that "privacy is at the heart of what we do" and that Alphabet/Google doesn't pursue scale for scale's sake.

During a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that was entitled "An insight, an idea with Sundar Pichai," he was questioned about General Data Protection Regulations (GDPRs), calling them "a great template” that provides a “standardized privacy framework.”

"For us, privacy is at the heart of what we do," Pichai said. "Users come to Google at very important moments, ask us questions, we deal with people’s sensitive information in Gmail, Google Photos and so on, and so we have to earn their trust. Today we do it by giving them control and transparency and choice around it."

Over time, he argued artificial intelligence (AI) could allow the company to do better. “We can do that [work] with less data over time," he said. "We can use AI to actually preserve privacy.”

He also emphasized that "privacy can not be a luxury good," adding: "We need to make sure we [serve] up services in a way that works for everyone, but puts them first and is privacy-enhancing.”

Asked about Google's regular acquisitions of startup companies and past and current antitrust probes in the U.S. and Europe, Pichar said: "With our scale rightfully comes scrutiny. You are right [that] we have bought startups, but as a company we invest every single year in hundreds of startups through our venture arms. These support entrepreneurs and incubators around the world.”

And he added that "with scale comes the chance to work on things, take a long-term view on important technologies like AI and quantum computing. It gives us a chance to do that. But ultimately we have to do it all in a way that works for society." Concluded Pichar: "That’s the real test, and society has to judge whether what we are doing is beneficial. And we want to engage constructively in the process and earn our right to do that. But we are not building scale for scale’s sake. We are trying to do important things for our users.”

Questioned about the biggest risk about AI, Pichar, who said he considers himself a tech optimist, mentioned that AI can help doctors, play a role in climate change, privacy and many other areas. "I am clear-eyed about the risks with technology, but the biggest risk with AI may be failing to work on it and make more progress on it, because it can impact billions of people," said the Google CEO, but he encouraged regulation. "You need a global framework to arrive at a safer world.”