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Google CEO takes side-swipe at Apple ‘selling privacy as a luxury good’

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has taken a side-swipe at Apple, suggesting that the company is effectively selling privacy as a luxury good.

Pichai doesn’t directly name the company, but the reference is clear …

Google’s head made his remarks in an op-ed for The New York Times.

We’ve stayed focused on the products and features that make privacy a reality — for everyone.

“For everyone” is a core philosophy for Google; it’s built into our mission to create products that are universally accessible and useful. That’s why Search works the same for everyone, whether you’re a professor at Harvard or a student in rural Indonesia […]

Our mission compels us to take the same approach to privacy. For us, that means privacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services. Privacy must be equally available to everyone in the world.

Apple has of course made its commitment to privacy a major selling point, with CEO Tim Cook not above similar digs at unnamed companies that everyone knows includes Google.

We could make a ton of money if our customer was our product. We’ve elected not to do that. You are not our product, you are our customer, you are a jewel.

Pichai clearly feels a need to counter the narrative that Google is all about selling your data to advertisers. He says everything Google does is based on two golden rules.

Google will never sell any personal information to third parties; and […] you get to decide how your information is used.

He then goes on to outline three ways in which Google’s use of your data is beneficial.

First, data makes the products and services you use more helpful to you. It’s what enables the Google Assistant to book a rental car for your trip, Maps to tell you how to navigate home and Photos to share vacation pictures with a click of a button.

Second, products use anonymous data in aggregate to be more helpful to everyone. Traffic data in Google Maps reduces gridlock by offering people alternate routes. Queries in Google Translate make translations more accurate for billions of people. Anonymized searches over time help Search understand your questions, even if you misspell them.

Third, a small subset of data helps serve ads that are relevant and that provide the revenue that keeps Google products free and accessible. That revenue also sustains a broad community of content creators, which in turn helps keep content on the web free for everyone. The data used in ads could be based on, for example, something you searched for or an online store you browsed in the past. It does not include the personal data in apps such as Docs or Gmail. Still, if receiving a customized ads experience isn’t helpful, you can turn it off. The choice is yours and we try to make it simple.

Pinchai also echoes Tim Cook’s call for a federal privacy law along the lines of Europe’s GDPR, with its four key requirements.

Europe raised the bar for privacy laws around the world when it enacted the General Data Protection Regulation. We think the United States would benefit from adopting its own comprehensive privacy legislation and have urged Congress to pass a federal law.

Although companies like Google and Facebook depend on user data to serve personalized ads, there is a general feeling in the industry now that legislation will provide the clarity companies need to make future plans.

What’s your view? Is Apple selling privacy as a luxury good? Or is it simply doing what it feels is right for its customers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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