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Google Labs gets into blockchain, Google Pay tiptoes towards crypto


Yesterday Bloomberg reported that Google Labs has created a blockchain division. Separately, Google Pay announced a new leader. The payments division is “paying attention” to cryptocurrency, and its activities will follow demand.

Google Lab’s new unit focuses on “blockchain and other next-gen distributed computing and data storage technologies”. It’s led by Shivakumar Venkataraman, an engineering VP. Before moving across to Labs at the start of this month, he was VP of Ads on Search and Google Properties. 

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that many Google Labs experiments don’t result in products. It’s also probably not lost on Google that Xoogler, a startup community of current and ex-Google employees, has a major focus on blockchain and NFTs.

Google’s parent Alphabet has an ‘independent’ growth fund, Capital G, that invested in the Digital Currency Group (DCG) in November 2021. DCG owns CoinDesk, Grayscale and Genesis Trading and has investments in hundreds of cryptocurrency startups.

Past Google activities in the area have focused on enabling blockchains to be searchable and Google Cloud, which provides node hosting for the likes of Hedera DLT, the Flow blockchain and video network Theta. Internally, Google is using blockchain for tracking tin supplies as part of its responsible supply chain.

Google Pay and crypto

Separately, Google Pay hired former PayPal executive Arnold Goldberg. He described his role as “GM for Payments and Next Billion Users” on LinkedIn. At PayPal, he was most recently SVP and Chief Product Architect, and before that, he led the solution for merchants.

“I am very excited to work with the team at Google in its mission to support a global, open payments ecosystem and drive economic opportunity for everyone,” said Goldberg.

Google Pay previously partnered with Coinbase and Bitpay to store crypto-assets on digital cards but doesn’t directly accept crypto payments. “Crypto is something we pay a lot of attention to,” said Ready. “As user demand and merchant demand evolves, we’ll evolve with it.” 

Google is looking to expand Pay to be a more comprehensive digital wallet, including airline tickets and vaccine passports. It’s notable that several vaccine solutions have involved decentralized identity and sometimes blockchain.

Goldberg’s boss Bill Ready said, “We’re not a bank — we have no intention of being a bank,” talking to Bloomberg. “Some past efforts, at times, would unwittingly wade into those spaces.” Last year, Google dropped its digital checking and savings service plans after partnering with several banks.

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