Commentary

About Schmidt: Google CEO Protects Right To Be Funny About Privacy

EricSchmidt

It's been nearly a week since Google CEO Eric Schmidt chitchatted with Stephen Colbert about data mining and how kids in the future will wipe out their online identity by changing their name. Evidently, the jovial comment Schmidt made to Wall Street Journal reporters didn't come off as a joke.  

The biggest problem: Schmidt isn't known for being a funny guy. He's an intellectual, straight shooter, get-down-to-business type of CEO. The information is "all out there on the Web," Schmidt told Colbert. "Google just collects it."

The computers all over the world collect the information, "and if it's really juicy there will be copies everywhere," Schmidt says jokingly. The truth is network hubs make copies of information as bits and bytes that get transferred from one location to another. So even the one private email you sent to your secret friend isn't private. There's another copy floating out there in cyberspace.

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Ironically, the press focused on the comment Schmidt made to The Wall Street Journal and missed his remark about the importance of privacy. He told Colbert that Google makes it possible for consumers to know the information the search algorithms collect about a person, so the owner of that information can delete the content.

It's true. Consumers can delete the information. Visit the Dashboard to discover the dirt on yourself.

My dirt consists of 67 calls on Google Voice, including a history of those placed and received, along with voicemails. It also gives me my network of connections Google uses to identify relevant social search results. It is based on a combination of the direct connections from Google chat buddies and contacts, direct connections from links that appear on your Google profile, and 546 secondary connections that are publicly associated with my direct connections.

I not only have dirt on myself, but dust on my 44 direct connections from Google Chat and Contacts. For example, it shows me Google's DeWitt Clinton has a Google profile that links to Tumblr and plink.com, and untonet on YouTube. I know who connects with Robert Scoble, Andy Beard and John Mueller. It seems like pretty harmless stuff; interesting nonetheless. Maybe I'm easily amused, but you might have a little housecleaning to do.

Concern about consumer privacy has marketers, associations, government officials and technology companies trying to find ways to manage online data, so consumers are comfortable, yet it still benefits advertisers. A recent study, Privacy Matters For Online Marketers, from Forrester Research reveals more than two-thirds of U.S. online adults are concerned about their privacy, security, and safety while they use the Web.

Forty four percent of adults don't trust any entity--bank or third-party company--with their information, and 91% of consumers want to control their own information. Only 5% of online adults say they would pay extra to see sites free of advertising, yet 22% prefer ads to be targeted to their interests, according to the report.

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