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Google CEO Sundar Pichai: ‘Privacy cannot be a luxury good’

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Sundar Pichai, Chief Executive Officer of Google, gestures as he speaks during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 24, 2018.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Photo: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

Privacy cannot be a “luxury good” in 2020, the CEO of Google warned on Wednesday, as he pointed to the European Union’s GDPR regulation as a template for other similar privacy laws around the world.

Sundar Pichai said that he believed that the tech giant’s products should be “privacy-enhancing,” noting that Google was increasingly giving users control and choice around privacy decisions.

“For us, privacy is at the heart of what we do. 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 that trust,” he said.

Pichai was speaking at a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos about quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and the future of technology governance.

Speaking about the EU’s once-controversial privacy regulation, Pichai called GDPR a “great template.”

“It gives a standardised privacy framework, and often when we are in other countries and they are thinking about privacy regulation, we point to GDPR as a template.”

“I'm glad Europe took the lead on it,” he said.

Earlier in the week, Pichai urged governments and regulators to introduce a “proportionate response” to the potential implications of artificial intelligence when they are drafting rules for the technology.

He also suggested that he supported a potential European ban on facial recognition, stressing that regulators needed to be aware of the threats posed by these technologies.

But Pichai said on Wednesday that AI could end up being used as a way to improve privacy, since it will allow algorithms to make decisions based on less data.

"We can use AI to preserve privacy as we improve user experiences,” Pichai said at Davos.

The remarks come before the EU is expected to publish proposals on the regulation of AI.