Posted December 11, 2009 9:22 am by with 10 comments

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Eric SchmidtLeave it to Eric Schmidt to stir up a hornet’s nest more often than not. Of course, he is a favorite target of everyone since he is the CEO of the most recognizable brand on the planet. Whether by design or not though, he is often saying something or other that is getting people in a tizzy. Admittedly, it takes A LOT less these days to get people into this state and that is one of the downsides of this new digital age. Despite the sensitivity threshold being much lower when Schmidt appears to downplay the notion of online privacy, there will be blood.

As cnet reports

Google CEO Eric Schmidt is the latest Silicon Valley CEO to draw ire after suggesting that folks seeking privacy might not want to look to the Internet to find it.

“I think judgment matters,” Schmidt said, appearing on CNBC . “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines–including Google–do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities.”

What has really drawn attention to this whole thing is the point of view of Mozilla. It has gotten under Mozilla’s skin so badly the suggestion is even made to go to bing because their privacy policy is better. Talk about biting the hand that feeds. Yikes. maybe this whole Chrome thing is making Mozilla a little more adversarial.

“That was Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, telling you exactly what he thinks about your privacy,” Mozilla Director of Community Development Asa Dotzler said on his personal blog, referring to the CNBC comments. “There is no ambiguity, no ‘out of context’ here. Watch the video.”

Watch the video? What a great idea!

Isn’t it interesting that this whole discussion is brought up on the heels of Google’s widening of the personalization of search results to everyone? In essence, that means that the vast majority of people will be completely unaware of the amount of data that Google is gathering on them anyway. Privacy is for the opt-out crowd only!

Ok, Pilgrims, is privacy something that we should expect online or has that gone the way of the dinosaur. If you do expect it, to what level do you expect it? Let us know your private thoughts in this very public forum ;-).

  • Name Not Necessary

    Obviously, if you state your name or make it too easy to guess, what you say or do online cannot be expected to be private. However, nasty site owners can dig up your IP and otherwise play easy detective games to figure out who you were and then quote you for stuff you wanted to say anonymously. That rarely happens but it could and it would stifle free speech even if legal.

    Obviously the Google CEO is entirely wrong if he is trying to say that nobody should state an opinion online that he or she wouldn’t put their real name to. World War Two was fought over that kind of attitude. One has the right to be anonymous in word and action – unless a terrible crime is committed involving bodily harm to someone else. Political incorrectness is necessary for a healthy society but it is not necessarily healthy for the individual infusing political incorrectness to state their name and position. Example: Chairman of Disney has a right to state his honest opinion just like the rest of us, but may find it better to state this opinion as a regular anonymous person so as not to imply this opinion represents the company.

  • Name Not Necessary

    A really good example of the need for privacy as in anonymous speech – which has been mostly a natural law right offline (in person) for 6000 years – would be that, because I may want to do business with Google, I wouldn’t want to put my real name to any statement about what I think about the judgment of the CEO’s comments.

    What happens if you take anonymity away is that those with more power and influence and insight and perspective will clam up out of self preservation, while imbeciles in trailer parks mouth off while boasting that they are “brave” for attaching their real names to politically correct or partisan opinions. Those with more to lose, fearing exposure of their real names, won’t want to be seen having any flame wars with such people.

    I have been amazed by the way that, sometimes – when I use my real name in an online discussion, no matter how innocuous the subject , some really nasty loser can suddenly disagree and start calling me names – all searchable on Google – and once this happens, I must stop arguing and bow out of the discussion no matter how easy it would have been to rhetorically body slam the other person and win the argument – the alternative would be the nasty person stalking you elsewhere on the net, disparaging you for Google or Twitter searchers to see.

    Nasty people online sniff out people who use real names, knowing they can abuse them.

    When I use fake names, nasty people sense this and stay away like rabid dogs who would prefer a weaker target.

    Having said that, wasn’t it the Republican justices of the Supreme Court who wanted to do away with the right to anonymity online in their dissent to the overturning of parts of the CDA Communications Decency Act?

  • I have to agree with Eric Schmidt, If you won’t yell it out in a crowded room, don’t put it online! Which is why I’ve chosen not to be part of Facebook crowd, too many people shouting stupid things about you in the crowded room, with no care of longterm consequence or risk (No Thanks)

    Yes it’s creepy but the law says you have no inherent right to privacy if you use an outside service, account Blackberry, Cloud Computing, those companies can be forced to give over data with a warrant. If you are using a 3rd party solution anything you put on there is not your personal property. Most people are unaware that the EULA’s (Who reads them) state content belongs to them, they can delete or lock you out, because you’re using the service. It’s not yours. This includes the internet connection you surf on, the phone you use…Even if you dump your garbage on the curb. If you put a body in the garbage bag! Don’t complain when they show up at your door with a warrant, because of the bad smell!.


    • Ken Jackson

      So searchengineman, I take it you don’t do online banking? Because if you do then your password is online and thus all of your financial information.

      But in any case, that’s not the real concern. I do agree with your metapoint that no one can truly guarantee privacy, thus info can be leaked. But that’s not what Schmidt said. Schmidt actually made a moral judgment on your desire to have privacy. Schmidt said that if you have something that you think should be private then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.

      Schmidt has confused my desire for privacy with one’s desire to do wrong. Almost nobody I know cares about that. What we do care about is: Google leaking my medical information to insurance and drug companies. Google sending my job search letter to my current employer. Google sending my purchases to a marketing company, etc…

      The fact that Google/Schmidt don’t seem to realize that most privacy concerns have little to do with legal/illegal/wrong/right is disturbing.

      A response I would have liked to have heard (I’d love to get Ballmer’s take on this) would have been: “Privacy is near impossible online. At least complete privacy is. So if you have something that is private it is very possible that it will leak. This includes innocuous actitivities that you may not want some subset of people to know about, like your wife’s anniversary party; more sensitive information like financial and medical data; and even illegal activities that one should not do, such as plan or commit a crime. Just always go in knowing that you don’t have a guarantee of privacy, so weigh that versus the activity and decide if it is something you’d like to do online.”

      • Hi Ken, you make some really great points here. Privacy is a huge sticky topic that doesn’t really have black and white answers, however I think we have to make some distinctions and determine what is truely private and what is not.

        I think the distinction between what is private and what is not is “did I publish it”. That means data that may be stored online about me (medical history, banking information) is absolutely private. Unless I publish that information on a public platform it shouldn’t be shared and it is privileged information.

        On the other hand, job search letters that would most likely be stored on a shared platform like Monster aren’t private in my opinion. I’d be more concerned about my current employer having a Monster account than whether my letter is somehow indexed in Google. In a similar vein, I’ve heard accounts of people calling in sick and then writing on Facebook that they had a few too many drinks the night before, only to be disciplined because the employer found the posting. I don’t really have any sympathy there. With your point about Google sending my online purchases to a marketing company – again I think it’s far more likely that the online shop I purchased the goods from would use their knowledge of my previous purchases to use targeted ads next time I visited. (I suspect it’s only the minority of people why read privacy policies of online stores before making a purchase – I’ll be honest, I don’t actually know if most online stores agree that the goods I’ve purchased remain private. In addition, connections with online shops are generally only secure during checkout, therefore my shopping basket is potentially open for the world to see.)
        In these examples while the privacy concern may be online, I don’t think Google is where my concern would lie.

        While you’re absolutely right that online privacy should not be violated, I really think what we write about ourselves and our actions online (i.e. purchases) gives away a lot more than anything else.
        .-= Rich Williamson´s last blog ..SEO Link Building =-.

  • Sounds to me like Eric is talking specifically about questionable or illegal activities that people may get up to and hope that after publishing it on the internet no-one will find it. In my opinion if something is published on the internet then it’s essentially open for anyone to see. Regardless of what anyone says about how they protect privacy on the internet, I think you have to assume that if someone really wanted access to your data then they could probably get access (here’s an article about a Brit that hacked the CIA’s system – If you really want something to stay private, I wouldn’t trust or test any privacy policy – just don’t publish it.
    .-= Rich Williamson´s last blog ..SEO Link Building =-.

  • Given all the ways that people abuse “anonymous speech” on the Internet, a little privacy scare might be good for the community.

    That said, this whole “secret cookie” business is SO black hat. Shame on you, Google! Shame on you!
    .-= Michael Martinez´s last blog ..Twitter marketing on autopilot =-.

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