With Schmidt Out at Google, Will Privacy Change?

By Katie Kindelan Comment

Google and CEO Eric Schmidt were hot topics this week once it was announced that Schmidt will step down as CEO in April to be replaced by Larry Page, one of the search engine giant’s two founders. But the media attention is nothing new for Schmidt, although in the past it’s more often been for the controversial and bold statements he’s made about online privacy than anything else. What has Schmidt said, and will the debate over online privacy change once he’s gone?

To jog your memory, here are a few quotes reminding us that Schmidt has been nothing if not upfront on the hot topic of online privacy since taking the reins at Google:

  • Suggesting in a 2010 Wall Street Journal interview that, in the future, teens could just change their names to avoid youthful indiscretions on social networks following them into adulthood:

“I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time … I mean we really have to think about these things as a society.”

  • Describing how Google technology could be used to track and identify people:

“If you have 14 pictures on the Internet, within a 95 percent confidence interval we can predict who you are. You say you don’t have 14 pictures? You have Facebook pictures, so there.”

  • Referencing, at the 2010 Washington Ideas Forum, Google’s ability to know your thoughts:

“We know where you are… with your permission. We know where you’ve been with your permission. We can more or less guess what you’re thinking about.”

  • Speaking out about anonymity online at the 2010 Techonomy conference:

“No anonymity. And the reason is that in a world of asymmetric threats, true anonymity is too dangerous. … I think it’s reasonable to say that you need a name service for humans. … The governments are going to require it in some form. They just are going to.”

  • Touting Google’s power to predict your movements:

“With products like Google Latitude, you can tell us where you are and then you can tell your friends where you are. Well, we can, using [artificial intelligence], then predict where you’re going to go.”

  • Describing what people you don’t like having their homes photographed for Google Street View should do:

“With Street View, we drive by exactly once, so you can just move.”

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

While Google, according to Schmidt, may be able to read our minds, we still can’t, unfortunately, read the minds of Page and Co-founder Sergey Brin enough to know whether Schmidt’s statements on online privacy are out as company policy.

We don’t predict that Google will jump on the “Do Not Track Me” bandwagon and embrace the model recently proposed by the FTC, or bow down to nemesis like Consumer Watchdog, abandon advancing technology like Street View, and give up collecting data for its advertising model.

But, could there be changes under Page’s leadership that put privacy back at the forefront at Googleplex and more closely hew to the company’s “Don’t be evil,” ethos?

Tell us what you think. Will the Page era be the era of privacy?