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

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

Sundar Pichai

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote that "privacy cannot be a luxury good" in an op-ed published in the New York Times on Tuesday.
  • The remark could be interpreted as a subtle jab at Apple, which has a reputation for being a luxury brand.
  • Pichai's comments come as the company has announced new privacy features for its products. Apple has also been increasingly vocal about its commitment to privacy in recent months.
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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 its updated privacy controls.

For example, Google showcased its efforts in making speech recognition technology more accurate for those living with disabilities who may speak differently. 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 can't afford a smartphone that costs nearly $1,000.


In an op-ed for the New York Times on Tuesday 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 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."

Read more: Google's Pixel chief explains what's next for the company's smartphone line as the industry grapples with plummeting sales


The argument that Apple is a luxury brand is a well-established one that's existed for years. The company's decision to expand its $1,000 iPhone X line in 2018 to include the iPhone XS and pricier iPhone XS Max also provides more evidence that Apple's products are designed for high-end consumers.

While Apple does sell a less expensive $750 iPhone XR that is priced similarly to older phones like the iPhone 8, it does not offer an option for budget-conscious consumers similar the Pixel 3a and other low-cost Android phones.

When Apple announced it had hired 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 fueled notions that the longtime computer maker considers itself to be a luxury brand. Apple recently announced that Ahrendts would be leaving the company, and longtime Apple executive Deirdre O'Brien will 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 does not benefit from collecting user data to improve ad targeting.

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

Apple CEO Tim Cook has made comments that seemingly reference companies like Google and Facebook in the past, most recently when sitting down with ABC News' Diane Sawyer. "You are not our product," he told ABC News. "Our products are iPhones and iPads. We treasure your data. We want to help you keep it private and safe."


Read more: I swapped out my $1,449 iPhone for Google's $479 Pixel phone, and it proved that phones don't have to be so expensive

The theme of privacy has also been prevalent in recent marketing materials from Apple as well. In March, for example, the company released a 45-second video showing consumers why privacy is 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 a number of new privacy-related features for its products during its keynote on Tuesday, such as a new shortcut to privacy settings that will be accessible in apps like Drive and Gmail just by tapping your profile picture.

Google is also launching 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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