×
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.

DigitalWellbeing_Blog
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

  • Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers a

    Facebook Reportedly Gave Tech Companies Access to User Data Beyond Disclosures

    Facebook gave tech companies like Amazon, Spotify, and Microsoft more access to user data than the company had previously disclosed. According to a New York Times report, the special arrangements were discovered in internal Facebook documents that track partnerships and were acquired by the Times. The report states that Facebook gave Netflix and Spotify access [...]

  • Eros Now Launches Quickies Original Strand

    Eros Now Launches Quickies Original Strand With 'Date Gone Wrong' (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Date Gone Wrong” is the first of a slate of original short-format video series being produced at Eros Now, the Indian streaming service operated by Eros International. The company plans some 50 Eros Now Quickie series launches in 2019, as part of its recently hinted-at strategy of launching 100 new series on the platform. Original [...]

  • Oath - Yahoo - AOL -

    Verizon Is Officially Killing the 'Oath' Name

    Oath, we hardly knew ye. Less than two years after Verizon unveiled Oath as the name for the merged AOL-Yahoo internet group, the telco announced that the name will be discontinued, with Oath to be renamed the “Verizon Media Group” as of Jan. 8, 2019. Oath has been a disappointment for Verizon: The telco spent nearly $10 [...]

  • Quibi - Tim Connolly - Jim

    Jeffrey Katzenberg's Quibi Adds Ex-Hulu Execs Tim Connolly, Jim O'Gorman to Management Team

    Quibi, the mobile-TV startup led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman, has tapped several Hulu alums among its latest hires. Tim Connolly, formerly senior VP of partnerships and distribution at Hulu, has joined Quibi as head of partnerships and advertising. Jim O’Gorman, previously Hulu’s SVP of talent and organization, is now head of talent and [...]

  • European Union Placeholder

    Europe, Hollywood Hail Landmark E.U. Territorial Licensing Agreement

    Industry organizations and major companies in Europe and Hollywood welcomed Tuesday a high-level European Union agreement that in large part preserves producers’ ability to sell movies and TV shows on an exclusive territory-by-territory basis. Territorial licensing is a financial backbone of the film and TV business in Europe. Recognition of such licensing came last Thursday in [...]

  • Crunchyroll Kun Gao - Joanne Waage

    Crunchyroll Co-Founder Kun Gao Moves Into Advisory Role, Joanne Waage Heads Anime Service as GM

    Kun Gao, co-founder and former general manager of Crunchyroll, has stepped aside from day-to-day management of the anime-streaming service, which is now led by general manager Joanne Waage. According to a Crunchyroll statement, Gao remains “very much involved” with the service as an adviser and is “continuing to work on several projects.” In addition, Gao [...]

  • Charter Communications logo

    Charter Reaches $174 Million Settlement on Internet-Throttling Fraud Suit

    Charter Communications agreed to a settlement valued at $174.2 million to resolve a lawsuit alleging the U.S.’s second-biggest cable operator defrauded broadband customers by failing to deliver promised internet speeds. According to the terms of the settlement with the New York Attorney General’s Office, Charter will pay $62.5 million in direct refunds to 700,000 active broadband [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content