Comments From Google's Schmidt: Creepy Or True?
First of all, we all know how I feel about comments taken out of context. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, etc. But that perspective was referring to comments that are inherently objectionable -- calling your customers "stupid f***s" sounds bad no matter how you choose to interpret it. On the other hand, while Schmidt's comments may seem creepy, many of them are also just plain true.
Take the first All Things D example: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." As a practical matter, it's actually not a bad idea -- and certainly an excellent ethical litmus test. Ask yourself, "How would I feel if this action I'm contemplating were splashed on the front page of the newspaper?" If the answer is, "Ashamed," you may want to reconsider the action.
What's creepy about it is that Schmidt is using it as a defense of Google's stance on privacy. The fact that I'm doing something dodgy doesn't give you the right to spy on me. Creepiness grade: B-. Truth grade: B+.
The article also uses this example: "We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about." Creepy? Yeah. But is that Schmidt's fault? The statement is entirely true. It isn't the comment that's creepy; it's the voyeuristic reality in which we find ourselves. In my office, we use a reputable online email service provider that shows us who clicked on which link; a colleague of mine gets completely skeeved out by that functionality. And rightly so; her point is that recipients of emails don't generally realize that their click will be visible to the sender, and so our awareness of their activity crosses the privacy expectation boundary. But that's also exactly the point with Google and Schmidt's comments: most people don't generally realize that Google knows where we are, where we've been, and what we're thinking about, and uttering that unvarnished truth aloud strikes a chord of creepiness directly connected to the violation of our expected privacy. Creepiness grade: B-. Truth grade: A.
One more from Schmidt: "One day we had a conversation where we figured we could just try to predict the stock market. And then we decided it was illegal. So we stopped doing that."
Really, All Things D? Did you not realize Google has the data and algorithmic muscle to try to predict the stock market? And isn't it a good thing that they stopped doing that because it was illegal? Again, the issue is not the statement; it is the frightening array of information that has become available to one private, mostly unregulated corporation. Creepiness grade: B+. Truth grade: A.
The PR folks want Schmidt to stop talking, of course, but shutting him up would only make us babies playing a collective game of peek-a-boo: if I can't see him, he can't see me. Ceasing to use Google won't make a whit of difference, either. If you actually want to make our digital world less creepy, you need to take action. Lobby your politicians. Lobby the FTC.
Need help finding them? Try Google.
You can find me even more easily than that: either leave a comment below, or let me know what you think via @kcolbin. Mwaahahaha...