Yesterday at the “Techonomy” conference in Lake Tahoe, California Google CEO Eric Schmidt made a number of remarks about user-generated content and data-mining that were somewhat controversial:
“If I look at enough of your messaging and your location, and use Artificial Intelligence,” Schmidt said, “we can predict where you are going to go.”
“Show us 14 photos of yourself and we can identify who you are. You think you don’t have 14 photos of yourself on the internet? You’ve got Facebook photos! People will find it’s very useful to have devices that remember what you want to do, because you forgot…But society isn’t ready for questions that will be raised as result of user-generated content.”
“The only way to manage this is true transparency and no anonymity,” Schmidt said. “In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it.”
Last December Schmidt also made statements about privacy that were not well received in a CNBC interview:
He told CNBC Anchor Maria Bartiromo, on the cable network’s recent special “Inside the Mind of Google,” that people who have something to hide shouldn’t be doing things online that might potentially expose them if law enforcement seeks access to their search histories.
“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” said Schmidt.
Google has apparently been holding off on employing facial recognition technology in products like Google Goggles. Schmidt’s comment above, “Show us 14 photos of yourself and we can identify who you are,” is an apparent allusion to that capability.
Google has experienced various privacy related complaints and legal inquiries over the past several years, growing more numerous recently. The concerns have been raised by privacy advocacy groups and regulators in the US and Europe — though more persistently in Europe where they come from a broader number of fronts, including data retention and, more recently, the unintended collection of personal information by Google’s Street View cameras.
The danger in remarks such as those made yesterday by Eric Schmidt is that they serve to reinforce Google critics’ perceptions of the company as “big brother” or perhaps big brother’s enabling little brother.