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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at Build this week. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

There’s a common theme running through the spring season of developer conferences and tech events: trust and privacy.

With the tech industry facing a backlash from consumers and regulators, tech giants including Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft are looking to assure everyone that they’re listening. But each company is approaching the issue in a very different way, and with a very different track record on the topic.

On this episode of the GeekWire Podcast, we listen to the CEOs of these companies talk about privacy, and analyze the different approaches.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in his opening comments at Microsoft Build: “But we also share a deep responsibility together. It starts with us as platform providers, but we have a collective responsibility. A few years ago when we started talking about it, it felt a bit prosaic to talk about responsibility in tech conferences where it’s all about the glitz of technology, but it’s no longer the case to us really thinking about the trust in everything that we build in the technology we build is so core.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. (Flickr Photo / Maurizio Pesce)

Google CEO Sundar Pichai talking about Google Maps at Google I/O: “In addition to finding easy access to your privacy controls, you’ll find a new feature, incognito mode. Incognito mode has been a popular feature in Chrome since it launched, and we are bringing this to maps. While in incognito in Maps, your activity, like the places you search and navigate to, won’t be linked to your account. We want to make it easy to enter in and out of incognito. And maps will soon join chrome and YouTube with support for incognito and we’ll be bringing it to search as well this year.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook promotes privacy at the company’s recent product event.

Apple CEO Tim Cook discussing Apple News at the company’s latest product event: “We felt we could make a difference in the way that news is experienced and understood. A place where the news would come from trusted sources and be curated by experts.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the F8 developer conference. (Facebook Photo)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at F8: “Privacy gives us the freedom to be ourselves. It’s easier to feel like you belong when you’re part of smaller communities and amongst your closest friends. So it’s no surprise that the fastest ways that we’re all communicating online are private messaging in small groups and in stories. As the world gets bigger and more connected, we need that sense of, of intimacy more than ever. So that’s why I believe that the future is private.”

Zuckerberg’s comments were a radical departure from the company’s recent strategy, but in some ways they represent a return to Facebook’s roots. But the Facebook CEO is having a hard time convincing the industry and the public that he’s genuine in his sudden concern for the issue.

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Microsoft is coming to these issues with the most experience and the least to lose. The company fought its own battles with the Federal Trade Commission over privacy back in the day, and it doesn’t rely on advertising revenue as the main driver of its business, having shifted from traditional software licensing revenue to subscription-based software and services.

Apple is in a similar position, making most of its money from devices and paid subscription services, which makes it easier for the company to tout privacy as a competitive advantage.

Google’s business is largely based on advertising revenue, and because of that it’s walking a fine line as it introduces new privacy controls.

But Pichai went public with a thinly veiled criticism of Apple on this topic in a New York Times op/ed, writing, “Our mission compels us to take the same approach to privacy. For us, that means privacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services. Privacy must be equally available to everyone in the world.”

Listen to the full podcast for more details and our analysis. You can play the show above, or subscribe to GeekWire in your favorite podcast app.

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