You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

For Facebook, Change Is Political. For Google, It’s Personal

Google started its annual Google I/O developer conference in Mountain View, Calif. Tuesday, just a week after Facebook had invited developers and media to its own f8 conference. But while happening almost back-to-back, the two events were also worlds apart.

Struggling with the continued outfall of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent the first 15 minutes of his keynote last week with apologies, outlining yet again what the company was doing to fight fake news, election interference and other forms of online abuse.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai also spent a few moments talking about how the company was striving to be a more responsible player, especially as new technologies like artificial intelligence emerge. “We just can’t be wide-eyed about the innovations technology creates,” he said. “The path ahead needs to be navigated carefully and deliberately.”

But Pichai didn’t talk about YouTube’s repeated problems with recommending inappropriate content. He didn’t talk about Google’s algorithms surfacing false stories from conspiracy websites. And he didn’t talk about the company’s own data collection policies. Instead, he introduced updates to the company’s smart assistant, the next version of Android and Google Maps.

Pichai’s segue from the downsides of technology to the company’s new products and features was possible because Google hasn’t experienced nearly as much of a public backlash as Facebook. Cambridge Analytica was a watershed moment for the social network, swaying public opinion and dominating the news headlines for weeks, and possibly months to come.

Google may very well have a similar moment in its future. And on Tuesday, the company outlined a very different approach to get ahead of the narrative: Instead of opening Pandora’s box on the politics of privacy, abuse and Russian trolls, it reframed digital safety around personal wellbeing.

“Helping people with their digital well-being is more important to us than ever,” said Google vice president of product management Sameer Samat. Over 70 percent of users had told Google that they wanted help striking a balance between their digital life and real-world interactions, Samat said, which is why the company added features to do just that to the next version of Android, which is currently code-named P.

Part of this is something Google calls Android Dashboard — a kind of analytics tool for your digital life, capable of telling you how often you unlocked your phone on any given day, and how much time you spent with which apps.

CREDIT: Courtesy of Google

Android will also let you set time limit for apps, reminding you after an hour of Instagram browsing that it may be time to do something else — if that is the limit you want to set yourself. And there will be a new wind-down mode, which automatically puts the phone screen in grayscale mode later in the evening to minimize mindless phone scrolling before bedtime.

“Digital well-being is going to be a long-term theme for us,” promised Samat.

Which is a good thing. Tech companies have for too long focused solely on making their services stickier, about maximizing time spent. Tools that can help strike a more balanced interaction with devices, especially the ones that we carry around every minute of every day, are a much-needed departure from that attitude.

But a focus on personal well-being doesn’t solve some of the other downsides of technology we all are facing. At some point, Google will have to outline its plans for societal well-being as well — even if it was able to successfully avoid the topic at its developer conference this week.

More Digital

  • survios at the linq

    Not Just Gambling: Las Vegas Is Becoming a Virtual Reality Hub

    Walk into the Linq on the Las Vegas strip these days, and you might not immediately realize you just stepped into a casino. Instead, you’ll stumble across a series of living-room-like lounge setups, complete with leather couches, big-screen TVs, Xbox Ones and Oculus Go VR headsets. There’s also a bar with a massive wrap-around touch [...]

  • Livenation AR Live stream

    Live Nation to Debut AR Live Stream at Music Midtown Festival

    Come September, Live Nation is set to begin streaming live events in augmented reality. The entertainment giant will debut live AR broadcasting at the Music Midtown festival in Atlanta, Georgia, where attendees will also be able to unlock filters and other AR effects. Live Nation announced the new initiative at the Cannes Lions festival Thursday, [...]

  • Adam Driver appears in The Report

    Amazon’s ‘The Report’ Gets U.K. Theatrical Release Ahead of Streaming Launch

    Amazon Studio’s “The Report” will be released theatrically in the U.K. three weeks before it lands on the Prime Video streaming service. The Scott Z. Burns film tells the story of Daniel J. Jones, a U.S. Senate staffer who worked to reveal that truth about an “enhanced interrogation” program run by the CIA in the [...]

  • Netflix HQ LA

    Netflix Engineers Developed a Rumble Pack Feature During Latest Hack Day

    A duo of Netflix employees had a unique idea for making the service’s shows even more stirring: They added a rumble pack option to the Netflix app as part of the company’s latest hack day. When watching shows like “Voltron,” the feature makes phones vibrate in sync with the action on the screen, similar to [...]

  • Apple - iPhone-XR-launch-Covent-Garden-London

    Apple Warns New Tariffs Would Impact iPhones, iPads, Macs

    Apple has told U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer in a filing that all of its major products would be impacted if the U.S. enacted a fourth round of tariffs in its escalating trade war with China. CNBC was first to report about the filing Thursday. “The proposed tariff list covers all of Apple’s major products, [...]

  • Amazon Music

    Amazon Music Launches on Comcast's Xfinity X1 Set-Tops

    Amazon Music is rolling out on Comcast’s Xfinity X1 — the first pay-TV distribution deal for the ecommerce company’s music service. The cable operator’s addition of Amazon Music comes six months after it added Amazon Prime Video to the X1 lineup. Prime Video quickly became one of the most-used apps on the service, which prompted [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content