CNBC: Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet and Google, interviewed by Deirdre Bosa.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said while consumers are putting the Covid pandemic in the rearview mirror, the economy is clearly a growing concern for the company and the wider market.
“We certainly see the uncertainty ahead of us, like everyone else,” Pichai told CNBC’s Deirdre Bosa in an interview Wednesday at Google’s annual I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif. “The good thing is that we have been around as a company for a while. [We] have worked on past moments like this, whether in 2008 or the early days of the pandemic, and we are taking a long-term view.”
He also said he thought the economy would “take time to get over” the current high rate of inflation.
“What gives uncertainty is that there are so many different factors, whether it’s supply chain issues or rising energy prices,” he said. -he declares.
“I think people are seeing relief in certain sectors,” he suggested, citing travel as an example. “But then you have other new areas that present problems, perhaps due to supply chain constraints… Energy has been an issue, for example. In some cases, rents have gone up and food prices.”
The Nasdaq is heading for its biggest quarterly decline since late 2008, when the economy was in the grip of the housing crisis. Consumer prices jumped 8.3% in April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Wednesday, higher than expected and near their 40-year high of 8.5%.
Shares of Google’s parent company Alphabet have fallen around 22% this year, tumbling alongside the rest of the tech sector as inflation fears and rising interest rates push investors towards higher expectations. assets considered safer in the event of a potential downturn.
Alphabet’s earnings at the end of April fell short of analysts’ estimates, largely due to a big misfire at YouTube, which was hammered along with other digital ad companies in the first quarter. The executives pointed to falling advertising spending on YouTube in Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
“Obviously when you serve [ads] in the economy as a whole…many macroeconomic factors such as GDP growth also end up affecting advertisers’ spending,” Pichai said.
Pichai said the economic story is not entirely bleak. Building on comments from Alphabet chief commercial officer Philipp Schindler last month, he noted that people were on the move again, an important indication for Google’s core advertising unit.
“We are definitely seeing the resumption of travel,” Pichai said. “There are signs that people are clearly moving on after the pandemic, and so there is a return to normal. But what gives uncertainty is that there are so many different factors, whether it’s supply chain issues or rising energy prices. And so trying to add it all together is where the uncertainty is.”
Pichai pointed to the company’s technology investments as a key way to keep its business strong in times of weakness, and did not indicate that the company plans to slow hiring or pull back from areas. individuals.
“We want to be resilient in times like this. We are very excited about the opportunities ahead. And so we invest. We continue to hire, bringing in great talent. There are areas where we are where we see a transformation, like the cloud and the transformation to digital. [we] continue to invest.”
Alphabet increased research and development spending 22% in the first quarter from a year earlier to $9.1 billion, despite economic uncertainty and market volatility.
He also cited the company’s diversification into many business sectors as a source of strength.
“We invest in fundamental technologies and we are present in many fields. So in some ways we are diverse. Obviously, we have important products like search and YouTube. We have IT products involving Android, Play and our hardware devices. And the cloud is a I think so we’re exposed to a whole lot of industries. And we do it globally as a company. And I think that allows us to take a long-term view and think about those phases.
Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet and Google, interviewed by CNBC’s Deirdre Bosa.
Google kicked off its conference on Wednesday by announcing new smartphones and teasing augmented reality glasses that use artificial intelligence to translate spoken words into on-screen text. Facebook parent Meta and Microsoft are also working on AR devices.
Google needs to spend to keep up with its competitors in a rapidly changing market, especially with the emergence of the short-video service TikTok, which is immensely popular with younger consumers. Google’s answer to TikTok, YouTube Shorts, is growing rapidly, attracting more than 30 billion daily views at the end of April, up from 15 billion in January.
“We have to respond to what users are asking for,” Pichai said. “We try to give them the best experience, and so we feel challenged to do better.”
He also pointed out “things like Snapchat, Pinterest – all of that didn’t exist a few years ago,” and said smartphones and the mobile ecosystem were creating all sorts of new opportunities.
“We always have to be nimble and we have to adapt, and that’s how I feel every Monday when I come to work,” he said.
The question of freedom of expression
He also touched on the balance between free speech and moderation of content on the internet, which has come under new scrutiny lately with Elon Musk’s planned acquisition of Twitter.
“I grew up in a great democracy, and I think the importance of free speech and giving people a voice is really fundamental,” said Pichai, who was born in India. “Search is what’s on the web today. We only remove what is against the law.”
He added: “In a product like YouTube, where we recommend and where we can amplify content, we have community guidelines. So we have clearly stated policies. And we act. And that’s what actually allows us to maximize freedom of expression, [to] help keep the platform safe for everyone involved.”
He also talked a bit about the company’s approach to content moderation. “I think it’s important to give people a sense of transparency. And there are many ways to achieve this. For example, we publish our community guidelines, or in the case of research, how our reviewers rate the quality of research, we publish that publicly.” He added: “I think it’s important to do this in a way that spammers and others who try to circumvent your products can’t do as well.”
Regarding Musk’s plans for Twitter, he said, “I’m an avid Twitter user. I think it’s an extremely important product for the world. I got a lot out of it. And I think there’s value in investing in the long term…I think it’s important because it plays an important role in democratic society…I would like to see the product continue to improve.”
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