Google Australia's managing director Jason Pellegrino has emphasised the importance of consumer trust in the company, saying that without it "our business doesn't exist".
"It's actually very simple. The way we think about it is – data is an incredibly valuable asset that users are willing to share with you. And it's based on trust, and that trust principle is fundamental. And we don't take it for granted. Because at the end of the day we have zero contracts with any users. If trust is broken our business doesn't exist. It's that dire," Pellegrino told an audience at the CeBIT technology summit in Sydney this morning.
"So we think about data, as an incredibly valuable asset that has to be protected just like any organisation would protect any other asset. And there has to be a utility exchange, and if that utility exchange doesn't exist, then trust is eroded," he added.
Google is arguably the world's biggest harvester of our online and mobile data, which it collects and stores whenever we interact with its huge suite of products.
A report by journalist Dylan Curran in March found Google held 5.5GB of data on him, including his Youtube history, app usage, his entire search history (including when in incognito mode), location data, all the events in his calendar, every email he had ever sent and all the files he had deleted from Google Drive.
Pellegrino explained that users were happy to give up their data in return for better products and services, which he called the 'utility exchange'.
"Utility exchange consists of ensuring that all users have full transparency and control over the data they share with you as an organisation. That you hold onto that data in a way that you would similarly hold on to any other asset that you have, and protect that. And that you only use that data to improve the service products and delivery mechanisms that you provide to that consumers," he said.
For example, "in return for sharing location services" users get more targeted search and maps results which are "fundamentally better," Pellegrino said.
Google has been forced to adjust its data collection posture to comply with Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), across all of the services it provides in the European Union. The company fiercely opposed the legislation and is mounting a similar effort against the proposals for similar laws in the US.
In the wake of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, Pellegrino said that consumers were increasingly aware of the value of their data, something businesses needed to be aware of.
In Australia, around 20 million people visit Google's My Account page each year to view and review their security, privacy and advert targeting settings.
"We need to be aware that we're in a world where – and it's a really great thing – that consumers are becoming more aware of the data that they have, the data they're sharing, the value of their data. And that's actually a really great thing," Pellegrino said.
Pellegrino's comments come amid allegations Google parent company Alphabet's location data harvesting uses a gigabyte of Android mobile user data every month, even when their phones are in aeroplane mode.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Office of the Australian Information (formerly Privacy) Commissioner (OIAC) on Tuesday announced they had met with Oracle, whose researchers initially raised the allegations which were first reported by The Australian.
"The OAIC met with Oracle and is considering information it provided about Google location services. We are making inquiries with Google, and are working closely with the ACCC on this issue," a spokesperson for the OIAC said in a statement.