Google's Privacy 'Fix' Evades Real Issues
When asked about privacy by editors of The Wall Street Journal, Schmidt predicted that in the future teens will have the option of changing their names when they become adults in order to distance themselves from material posted by their friends. The Journal says this prediction was "apparently serious."
But it's hard to believe that Schmidt really was presenting this idea as a solution to very real privacy problems posed by digital media. Schmidt must know as well as anyone that pseudonyms can be easy to crack, as happened when AOL released search queries for "anonymized" users. Besides, there's nothing to stop the same people who made the initial, presumably embarrassing posts from updating them with their friends' new names.
It seems more likely that Schmidt's comments (at least as reported by the Journal) were aimed at deflecting questions about how Google itself compromises privacy by instead turning the focus to the ways in which users can be compromised by their friends.
That problem, of course, is beyond Google's control. After all, users have always been able to embarrass their friends, whether by circulating private emails, writing blog entries or otherwise making facts public.
It's also totally separate from the privacy problems that occur when companies leak information that users thought was confidential, as happened when Google launched Buzz -- which initially revealed names of users' email contacts, if users activated Buzz without changing the defaults -- or when AOL publicly released 650,000 users' search queries.
Google itself has never adequately addressed why it stores users' search queries as long as it does. The company also has never adequately answered concerns about how it will keep information about the books people read confidential, should the settlement in the book search case go through.
Schmidt should spend a little more time thinking about Google can address privacy issues, not about how users can protect themselves from their friends.