Google CEO Larry Page still sounds hoarse when he talks, but he’s apparently back in the public spotlight after several months of lying low due to a recent health issue that had been described as the loss of his voice. However, Page is now ready to discuss issues ranging from privacy to the European Union.
On Oct. 16, Page was a speaker at the latest Zeitgeist Minds event put on by Google to highlight and get into the minds of the world’s top thinkers and leaders.
In a 38-minute interview with CNN’s Campbell Brown on the Zeitgeist Minds stage, Page talked about the wide range of issues, from Google’s ongoing privacy battles with regulators around the world to YouTube, intellectual property and his views about the changes that Google has brought to our society.
Some of Page’s most striking comments related to the issues that continue to be raised by regulators in Europe and the United States about the company’s privacy policies surrounding user information that it collects through its varied services.
In the latest scuffle with European regulators this week, Google is again being sharply criticized by European officials about how the search engine giant uses the data it collects about its online users who use their extensive services.
Yet the problem with such discussions today, said Page, is that it’s too early to be limiting the possible scope of how such information can be used in beneficial ways. For consumers in today’s Internet-centric world, if they turn on their smartphones and are connected to useful information or alerts that are automatically provided because their personal data pulled such resources to them, that can be an amazing feature, said Page.
Regulators, on the other hand, are working to prevent Google from using consumers’ personal information across various Google services in an effort to watch out for consumers, he said.
“Virtually everything that we want to do, I think, is somewhat at odds with, you know, locking down all your information for uses that you haven’t contemplated yet,” said Page. “So that’s something I worry about. I think it’s a very important thing.”
What’s wrong about that thinking is that it doesn’t take into account continuing technological and societal changes.
“We don’t actually know how the Internet’s going to work 10 years from now,” said Page. “So it’s kind of, I think, a mistake to start carving out large classes of things that you don’t really understand yet, that you don’t want to let people do. I think that’s kind of the approach that I think a lot of regulators are taking, which I think is sad.”
In another interesting segment, Brown asked Page what has him excited about what has been going on inside Google lately.
“I think I get really excited about the things that we can do at Google that really seriously change the world,” said Page. “I think we did that with search, we tried that with books. We’ve tried a whole variety of things that I think have been really big changes.”
That same innovation arrived with Google Maps, he said. “I thought back to seven years ago, we started working on maps and when you think about that, that was … before smartphones. You couldn’t really use the maps on your phone. You had to use it on a computer. And we said, it would be really nice to have a virtual representation of the real world that was accurate.”
That’s where the idea for Google Maps was first born, said Page. “And seven years later, we’re kind of almost there, and we’re excited that other people have started to notice that we’ve worked hard on this.”
Those kinds of innovations are very satisfying now, said Page. “For me, it’s kind of those big ideas that you have early” that are particularly special. “We’re good at coming up with them in the context of our business.”
That’s what Google did by creating its open-source Android operating system for mobile phones, before Google even had its eyes on smartphones.
And more innovations continue to be in the pipeline.
“Currently, we’re doing something that all of you think is crazy—we’re developing self-driving cars,” said Page. “But I have young kids. I imagine that many of you do. Imagine 10 or 12 years from now, they’re turning 16. How happy will you be to have them being taught [to drive] by a car that can … drive. They think they’re driving. They just can’t kill themselves or anyone else. They’ll still have the illusion of driving if you like. Wouldn’t that be a better world?”
Why is Google working on such an issue, he asked? Because vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 16-year-olds in the U.S., said Page. “So just think about those kinds of things. It’s easy to think they’re crazy now.”
Page wasn’t making public appearances on behalf of Google just three months ago. In July, he even missed the company’s quarterly earnings call, where he would typically speak about Google’s performance.
Google’s next earnings report is set for Oct. 18. All eyes will likely be watching to see if Page is again at the helm for the call.