Google's CEO took a subtle swing at Apple in a new op-ed: 'Privacy cannot be a luxury good'

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesGoogle CEO Sundar Pichai.
  • In an op-ed article published in The New York Times on Tuesday night, Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote that “privacy cannot be a luxury good.”
  • The remark could be interpreted as a subtle jab at Apple, which has a reputation for being a luxury brand and has been increasingly vocal about its commitment to privacy in recent months.
  • Also Tuesday, Google announced new privacy features for its products.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

If there was one key theme that executives reiterated during Google’s I/O keynote on Tuesday, it’s the company’s “for everyone” mantra. This ethos appeared to be present in every section of the presentation, from the unveiling of new gadgets to the company’s updated privacy controls.

For example, Google showcased its efforts in making speech-recognition technology more accurate for those with speech disabilities. It also unveiled the Pixel 3a, a more affordable version of its flagship smartphone that Google positioned as bringing a top-tier experience to those who couldn’t afford a smartphone that costs nearly $US1,000.

In an op-ed article for The New York Times published Tuesday evening about the company’s commitment to privacy, Google CEO Sundar Pichai elaborated on this value again in what could be interpreted as a subtle jab at Google’s rival Apple.

“Our mission compels us to take the same approach to privacy,” Pichai wrote. “For us, that means privacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services.”


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The argument that Apple is a luxury brand has existed for years. The company’s decision to expand its $US1,000 iPhone X line in 2018 to include the iPhone XS and the pricier iPhone XS Max also provides more evidence that Apple’s products are designed for high-spending consumers.

While Apple does sell a less expensive $US750 iPhone XR that is priced similarly to older phones like the iPhone 8, it does not offer an option for budget-conscious consumers similar to the Pixel 3a and other low-cost Android phones.

When Apple announced it had hired the former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts as its senior vice president of retail and online stores in 2013 shortly before unveiling the Apple Watch, it further fuelled notions that the longtime computer maker considered itself to be a luxury brand. Apple recently announced that Ahrendts would be leaving the company and that the longtime Apple executive Deirdre O’Brien would be taking over as senior vice president of retail and people.

Apple is very vocal about its commitment to privacy, especially as companies like Google and Facebook have come under increased scrutiny regarding their privacy and data-collection policies. Unlike those companies, Apple hasn’t built its business on advertising, and therefore it does not benefit from collecting user data to improve ad targeting.

The company also uses a technique known as differential privacy when information from a user’s device is shared with Apple’s servers. Differential privacy adds random identifiers to a user’s data so the information cannot be linked to a user’s specific account or device.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has appeared to take jabs at companies like Google and Facebook in the past, most recently when sitting down with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer. “You are not our product,” he said. “Our products are iPhones and iPads. We treasure your data. We want to help you keep it private and safe.”


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The theme of privacy has been prevalent in recent marketing materials from Apple as well. In March, for example, the company released a 45-second video portraying privacy as being important in mobile devices. The clip ended with the tagline “If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on.”

Apple also posted a billboard in Las Vegas during CES, one of the largest tech-industry events of the year, that reiterated the company’s stance on consumer privacy.

Google announced numerous new privacy-related features for its products during its keynote Tuesday, such as a new shortcut to privacy settings that would be accessible in apps like Drive and Gmail just by tapping one’s profile picture.

Google is also preparing an Incognito Mode for products like Maps, YouTube, and Search, building off the popular private browsing mode that’s been present in Chrome for years. More broadly, it announced a new technique called Federated Learning, which enables it to improve products without gathering additional personal data.

“We have a responsibility to lead,” Pichai wrote in The Times. “And we’ll do so in the same spirit we always have, by offering products that make privacy a reality for everyone.”

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