Google CEO Page Talks Privacy With Cordoned-Off Sun Valley Elite

Jul 11, 2014 12:04 pm ET

July 11 (Bloomberg) -- Google Inc. Chief Executive Officer Larry Page, not known for his public speaking, zeroed in on a timely subject when he addressed privacy at Allen & Co.’s annual dealmaking retreat this week in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Media and technology executives traveled to the picturesque mountain-resort town to mingle in seclusion as they mapped out the next big moves for their companies. They discussed cable- industry consolidation and changes in the tech landscape, safely fenced off from casual vacationers and photographers. Private security trailed Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg everywhere, while Yahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer managed to almost entirely avoid cameras.

Page, whose company makes money gathering data on users’ Internet behavior, will collect more information with release of wearables such as Google Glass. At his July 9 talk, he made the case that Google takes privacy very seriously and described how the world’s most-popular search engine thinks about it as a problem to solve, according to people who were there.

“His dedication to protecting the data at his company was visceral,” said Pride Winkenwerder, an artist who was there. “I thought he was fascinating.”

Page also spoke about projects including self-driving cars, described as moonshots within the company.

Tim Drinan, spokesman for Google, declined to comment.

Sun Valley’s private setting affords attendees the chance to comfortably -- and covertly -- discuss sensitive subjects. The event is known for spawning deals, from cable operator Comcast Corp.’s acquisition of film and TV company NBCUniversal to the agreement, announced after last year’s confab, for Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos to buy the Washington Post.

Deal Landscape

There’s been more buyouts in the pay-TV industry, and programmers say they’re concerned they may have to follow suit, bulking up to maintain negotiating leverage with content buyers like Comcast, which is acquiring Time Warner Cable Inc.

“We’re all trying to figure out consolidation, what does it mean for all of us in the industry,” said David Zaslav, CEO of Discovery Communications Inc., which carries “Naked & Afraid,” “American Chopper” and “Dirty Jobs” on its flagship channel. “The general consolidation presents challenges.”

Though Zaslav spoke to reporters, the press often found themselves out of earshot, trying to divine the contents of a distant conversation. Samsung Electronics Co. executives Jay Lee and Gregory Lee were seen strolling with Mike Fries, CEO of John Malone’s European cable company, Liberty Global Inc., and separately with AT&T Inc. Chairman Randall Stephenson.

Mayer’s Laugh

Yahoo’s Mayer was spotted last night at a table by the bar, talking to AOL Inc. CEO Tim Armstrong. Their conversation appeared serious, until Mayer’s husband, Data Collective LLC managing partner Zachary Bogue, joined them. Then Mayer laughed a lot.

Executives from the sports world also showed up at Sun Valley, including Adam Silver, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, who was seen, along with his predecessor, David Stern, huddling with Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook and Eddy Cue. Time Warner Inc.’s contract to air NBA games is up for renewal, one of the last major TV deals up for grabs for several years as sports becomes increasingly crucial for TV ratings.

Cook, Apple’s CEO, commented on plans for the iPhone maker to disclose diversity data. Later that day he told a Bloomberg News reporter holding a Samsung phone to get an upgrade, declining a further interview. “I’m just here for meetings,” he said.

Security Wall

One tidbit reporters could count on in the past was an annual news conference by Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman. This year he decided not to do it.

To avoid instigating gossip, executives could go on private hikes or golf outings, while security officials keep a lookout for drones -- considered a larger threat this year as they become more popular.

For a dinner with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Zuckerberg escaped the conference altogether and chose a wine bar in town. They discussed leadership, the New York Times reported.

A panel on creativity yesterday featured movie producers Harvey Weinstein and Brian Grazer. Later in the day, a panel on education featured Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy Charter Schools, and Kaya Henderson, the chancellor of Washington public schools.

It isn’t all business, though, at the event, which runs through tomorrow. Executives bring their spouses and children, who are tended to by babysitters provided by Allen & Co. and could get skating lessons at the ice rink.

Green Sneakers

Christie spoke of skeet shooting with SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, who is Sandberg’s husband. “He’s a great shot, don’t let him tell you otherwise,” Christie said when he ran into Goldberg while leaving the bar.

Twitter Inc. CEO Dick Costolo has been seen running in lime-green sneakers, while Palantir Technologies Inc. CEO Alex Karp practices tai chi and Stacey Bendet Eisner, founder of clothing chain Alice + Olivia, walks around modeling long flowered skirts from her website. Designer Diane Von Furstenberg was seen showing off new limited-edition Google Glass sunglasses, saying she got he idea from seeing Sergey Brin wear a pair.

“It is a marriage of fashion and technology,” von Furstenberg said.

The tone among attendees is friendly, according to Judy Pagliuca, a Boston-based investor who is invited through her husband, Bain Capital Partners Managing Director and Boston Celtics owner Stephen Pagliuca, and attended the session on education. She’s been introduced to people here who later follow up for a one-on-one meeting, she said.

“When they take questions in the audience from attendees, they’ve been very inclusive,” Pagliuca said.

--With assistance from Brian Womack in San Francisco.