Google says data is more like sunlight than oil, just 1 day after being fined $57 million over its privacy and consent practices

Ruth PoratRuth Porat, CFO of Google.REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

  • Google's chief financial officer Ruth Porat said data is more like sunlight than oil.
  • It's an upbeat twist on the phrase 'data is the new oil', which implies information is finite.
  • Porat said Google was using data for positive developments, like diagnosing breast cancer.
  • Her comments at the World Economic Forum come a day after Google was hit with a $57 million fine by French authorities over its data collection practices.

Google wants to popularise a more upbeat way of describing data: it's more like sunlight than oil.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday morning, Google chief financial officer Ruth Porat said: "Data is more like sunlight than oil ... It is like sunshine, we keep using it and it keeps regenerating."

Most people know the phrase "data is the new oil," a theory about how the world's most valuable resource is information rather than petroleum.

Like the oil barons that preceded them, Silicon Valley titans such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon have risen quickly to profit from this new resource, and even control its flow. In another echo of history, regulators are eyeing the industry.

Read more: France fines Google $57 million for breaking Europe's strict new privacy rules

Porat isn't the first to try and reframe the economics of data. Like others, she argued that the oil analogy implies that data is a finite resource.

And doubtless Google would prefer to avoid any direct comparison with oil barons.

Porat pointed to the way Google uses data for good, such its researchers developing an algorithm to detect the spread of breast cancer.

Her comments come just a day after Google faced its first major test under Europe's new privacy rules, the GDPR.

France's data regulator fined the firm $57 million on Monday, saying that the company didn't properly explain what it does with people's data, and that it didn't obtain proper consent for targeting ads.

It's the first signal that the new rules could prove a major financial headache for Silicon Valley's tech giants.

Porat didn't address the fine directly, but did praise the GDPR. US regulators are considering implementing similar federal privacy rules.

"We support privacy laws in the US. Trust is paramount," she said.

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