Google plans to set up development teams for Asian countries as the U.S. tech giant looks to tailor its services to different cultures and habits.
Products “developed for the United States cannot just be translated into many cultures,” Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan told Nikkei Asia. “To be successful locally, we have to invest in local cultural understanding” in Southeast Asia and other regions where internet users are increasing rapidly, said the search and advertisement chief.
Google already has a local development team in Japan working to brush up search services to suit Japanese users. Raghavan said one of the team’s focuses has been on presenting more search suggestions than in other countries, as “in Japan, people enter very succinct queries.”
Google also has a team in India, where contrary to Japan, “One-third of queries … are spoken queries, and they are very long forms,” Raghavan said.
“It’s very important that your speech recognition accuracy becomes very high,” he added. “To do that in 20 different languages in India becomes a priority.”
Raghavan said Google aims to set up similar locally focused development teams in Southeast Asia and other countries after realizing that “in certain countries, you have to have local teams that are very tuned in to the local culture and society.”
According to Google and other sources, internet users represented 75% of Southeast Asia‘s population in 2021 and are growing rapidly, increasing by 40 million last year alone.
Meanwhile, the net income of Google parent Alphabet decreased 14% from a year earlier to USD 16 billion in the three months leading up to June as the growth of its mainstay ad business slowed amid growing concerns over a global economic slowdown.
“If you look at countries like India, Vietnam, and Indonesia, they are extremely young populations, and almost all new internet users in the world come from those populations,” Raghavan said. “We have a recognition that serving young new internet users is always a hard problem—but one that, over the years, we’ve kept up with.”
Google also faces increasing pressure from non-U.S. rivals such as China’s ByteDance, which is increasing its presence as its short-form video app TikTok draws users around the world.
“There is no question that younger people especially are tuned toward short-form videos,” Raghavan said, acknowledging TikTok’s success, but added, “We have been relatively successful in growing ‘YouTube shorts,’ and in many APAC markets, it’s extremely heavily used.”
Raghavan said many people use Google’s search service to check information shared through short-form videos, and stressed that the service maintains a strong presence.
Asked about Google’s measures to address increasingly tighter regulations protecting privacy around the world, Raghavan said, “the best way to ensure the privacy of a user while still having relevant advertising is a technique that we have developed using ideas from artificial intelligence.”
Google, which so far has individualized ads per user, plans to change that strategy “in a few quarters” to deliver ads to groups of several hundred users who share similar attributes, according to Raghavan.
To protect privacy, “even Google should not know which group you are a member of” under the planned new system, Raghavan said. Artificial intelligence will be used to maintain highly effective ad impacts, he added.
“This is a work in progress, and we have early trials going on with a number of partners,” Raghavan said. “We are also discussing with governments to make sure they are happy with the privacy and publisher trade-off.”
Antitrust authorities of many countries are increasing scrutiny into tech giants, but Raghavan said, “I think of Google search as one player in the ‘marketplace of intent.'”
“A lot of intent is being satisfied by services like TikTok and Instagram. This is all part of the larger picture by which users engage with information, and we are one player,” he said.
He also expressed concern over the geopolitical ramifications of government attempts to control information online.
“There are many regimes that would like to assert censorship, surveillance, and state sovereignty over private citizens’ access to data,” Raghavan said.
According to Raghavan, Google has continued to provide its services, including search and YouTube, in both Russia and Ukraine after the invasion. “I believe that everyone, whether they are in Japan or China or the United States, is served better through open-access information,” he said, and the world should “not let the Balkanization of the internet happen.”