Jun 22, 2022 - Technology

Former Google exec: Antitrust enforcement is key to online privacy

Illustration of a gavel with the Google logo on the block
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Antitrust action is desperately needed to reel in the practices of Big Tech companies, especially around privacy, Google's former head of advertising said Tuesday.

Driving the news: Competition in tech is needed to ensure people are able to have private online experiences, because large companies like Google will never truly care about user privacy, Sridhar Ramaswamy said during an onstage interview with Axios in Toronto at the Collision Conference.

  • Ramaswamy spent 15 years running Google's lucrative advertising business before launching Neeva, a subscription-based search engine.

Why it matters: Regulators around the world have put increasing pressure on the largest technology companies over anti-competitive practices.

  • Ramaswamy is banking on a future where smaller, privacy-focused platforms stand a chance of competing against companies like Google.

What they're saying: "Big tech would like nothing better than to portray themselves as the saviors of our country, as the defender of democracy, but nothing could be further from the truth," Ramaswamy said.

  • Ramaswamy pointed to the U.S. Justice Department's ongoing case against Google as a promising development for other browsers seeking to reach customers on their smartphones without tracking them across the internet: "It is going to unleash competition. They have no interest in privacy because their business is built on mass collection and exploitation of information."
  • "Imagine one company in charge of supplying water for the entire planet... a for-profit company. Search and access to information is as basic, and you have one company in charge of this."

Reality check: It will take years, even decades, for regulators and companies to catch up with laws that protect consumer data and practices that put user privacy first.

  • Efforts to pass a comprehensive data privacy law in the U.S. are slowly moving along, but face an uphill battle.

In the meantime, people can arm themselves with digital privacy literacy, Brittany Kaiser, a whistleblower in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal who now runs a foundation called Own Your Data, said during the same interview at the Collision conference.

  • "Education and awareness is how we go after generational change," she said. "Instead of teaching children how to use technology, we teach them how technology works," and how to use more privacy-focused tools.
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