Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google and respective President and CEO of its parent company Alphabet Inc, have officially announced plans to step down from their high-ranking management roles in the tech world. Page and Brin created the Google search engine in 1998 when they were PhD students at Stanford University. Since then, the two have expanded the company into a multi-purpose technological empire.
Now, twenty-one years later, the forty-six year old entrepreneurs are resigning from their leading positions at Google. However, given the stress that Google is under, they are retiring at a suspiciously convenient time. And even though they are sacrificing their titles, they are simultaneously managing to maintain stakes in the Google brand.
Taking over for Page and Brin is Pichai Sundararajan—better known as Sundar Pichai, the former number-two at Google who has practically been acting as the face of the company for the past few years. As the two founders have found themselves more invested in Google’s experimental sectors recently—Brin focusing on GoogleX’s driverless cars and Google Glasses while Page has shifted his attention towards flying automobiles—most of the Google’s more widely-used properties have fallen under Pichai’s supervision.
Pichai has been with Google since 2004. He is responsible for convincing the company to start its own browser in 2008, which lead to the immensely successful Google Chrome. In 2013, he took over the Android Division, better integrating Google properties into the line of smartphones without sacrificing their affordability. He also spearheaded the development of Chrome OS, the operating system that fuels Google’s popular Chromebook laptops.
Indeed, Pichai is an obvious choice to replace Page and Brin as CEO of Google and Alphabet. The man has practically been running the company’s mainstream innovations for the past ten years, while its founders take the backseat to play out their billion dollar tech fantasies.
Then again, Page and Brin are far from exiled from the Google community. Although they are no longer acting leaders, they will still keep their fourteen percent stakes in the company’s finances. As majority stockholders, they will also retain influence over Alphabet’s decisions. Thus, Page and Brin’s step down from power is hardly a step down at all, but rather an excuse to hold onto control while dodging personal accountability in trying times.
And trying times these are indeed for Google. Within the past year especially, Congress and other authorities have been cracking down on tech conglomerates such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and of course, Google. Like its fellow cyber juggernauts, Alphabet has been criticized for having a monopoly on data. Not only are users starting to think that Google wields too much power, but they also fear what it is doing with such power, as the worldwide company becomes oddly elusive when questioned about its privacy standards, information distribution, and business ethics.
Even Marc Zuckerberg had the slightest integrity to come before Congress and speak for Facebook during the Senate Committee hearing on big tech last year. Page and Brin, however, were nowhere to be found. Despite being requested at the hearing, they left a conspicuously empty seat in Washington DC with Google’s name on it.
Ever since cyber ethics and big tech have become hot topics in the media, the founders of Google have been moving further and further away from the spotlight. Their resignation from Alphabet as a whole signifies their ultimate fall into the shadows, where no one can accuse them of immorality or illegality on behalf of the company. The burden will now fall on Pichai.
In a way, little has changed. Pichai has more or less been answering for Page and Brin for a while, handling publicity and leading all of the launches that come from Google. Now, however, he holds the actual crown—even if Page and Brin are keeping the royal treasure. With any luck, though, maybe Pichai will improve Google, not just by creating more innovative software, but by bettering Alphabet’s approach to security, designing tech with human decency in mind, and actually owning up and responding to some of the company’s mistakes as they come.
It’s unlikely and perhaps foolishly optimistic, but it’s a silver lining that users can grasp onto given the (albeit somewhat empty) change in Google’s leadership.
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