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Google CEO Eric Schmidt's Most Controversial Quotes About Privacy

The Huffington Post     First Posted: 11/04/10 09:40 AM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 07:10 PM ET

Google could face huge fines and loss of customer trust as a result of its recent privacy stumbles. In October, the Internet search giant admitted that its Street View cars had collected personal emails, passwords and more over unsecured Wi-Fi connections. In September, the company confirmed that a Google engineer was fired for accessing personal data of users, four of whom were minors.

For years, users and watchdog organizations have voiced their concerns about Google's privacy policies and its control over users' digital lives. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has frequently addressed these concerns, but he hasn't always alleviated fears.

Schmidt's statements about privacy sometimes seem to conflict with Google's "Don't be evil" mantra, and his predictions about the future of tech sound startlingly invasive to some.

Although Schmidt has claimed that some of his controversial remarks have been jokes, he has also admitted to misspeaking and stoking anxieties.

See our roundup of Schmidt's most controversial quotes about privacy below. Do you think his statements are reasonable? Worrisome? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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  • "Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it," Schmidt <a href="" target="_hplink">told</a> the <em>Atlantic</em> at the Washington Ideas Forum in October 2010. He went on, speaking about the future of search, <blockquote>With your permission you give us more information about you, about your friends, and we can improve the quality of our searches [...] We don't need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about.</blockquote>

  • "I actually think most people don't want Google to answer their questions [...] They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next," Schmidt <a href="" target="_hplink">said</a> in an interview with the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> in August 2010.

  • "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place," Eric Schmidt <a href="" target="_hplink">told</a> CNBC's Maria Bartiromo in a December 2009 interview.

  • In August 2010, the<em> Wall Street Journal</em> paraphrased Schmidt's <a href="" target="_hplink">vision</a> of online life: <blockquote>"I don't believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time," [Schmidt] <a href="" target="_hplink">says</a>. He predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends' social media sites.</blockquote> During a September appearance on the <em>Colbert Report</em>, Schmidt <a href="" target="_hplink">said</a> the statement was a joke. "It just wasn't a very good joke," he admitted. "The serious goal is, just remember, when you post something, the computers remember forever."

  • 244,000 German citizens <a href="" target="_hplink">objected</a> in October 2010 to having their homes shown on Google Street View, which will launch in Germany in November 2010. The following day, <a href="" target="_hplink">reports</a> All Things Digital, Eric Schmidt <a href="" target="_hplink">appeared</a> on CNN's <em>Parker Spitzer</em> and allegedly said that people who take issue with their homes appearing online “can just move” after Google cars photograph their homes or businesses.

  • In a September 2008 interview with <a href="" target="_hplink">McKinsey Quarterly</a>, Eric Schmidt spoke of an all-knowing technology of the future that would be a dominant force in users' lives. "When people have infinitely powerful personal devices," Schmidt said, <blockquote>connected to infinitely fast networks and servers with lots and lots of content, what will they do? There will be a new kind of application and it will be personal. It will run on the equivalent of your mobile phone. It will know where you are via GPS, and you will use it as your personal and social assistant. It will know who your friends are and when they show up near you. It will remind you of their birthdays. [...] When you go to school it will help you learn, since this device knows far more than you ever will.</blockquote>

  • "In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you," Schmidt <a href="" target="_hplink">said</a> at the 2010 Techonomy conference, arguing that there were dangers to having complete anonymity online and that governments may eventually put an end to anonymity. "We need a [verified] name service for people," he said. "Governments will demand it."

  • At Google’s Zeitgeist conference in May 2010, Eric Schmidt addressed concerns over Google's Street View cars, which had recently been revealed to have collected personal data over unsecured Wi-Fi connections. "No harm, no foul," Schmidt reportedly <a href="" target="_hplink">said</a> of the incident, according to The Times of London. “A relatively small of data was collected and this was not authorized [...] We stopped driving immediately. There appears to be no use of data. It’s sitting on a hard drive. [...] We will not delete [the collected data] until ordered to do so.”

  • During a November 2008 conference sponsored by the New America Foundation, Consumer Watchdog <a href="" target="_hplink">suggested</a> that Google should implement better privacy measures for customers. Eric Schmidt <a href="" target="_hplink">responded</a> by saying that implementing the strictest safeguards "slows everything down." "Ultimately," Schmidt went on, "we're not going to do anything that disadvantages speed."

  • In August 2008, Schmidt took the stage with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow at the Council on Foreign Relations. When Maddow asked, "How can we trust Google?" Schmidt <a href="" target="_hplink">responded</a>: <blockquote>We do worry that as this [personal] information gets collected, it becomes a treasure trove. [...] In the worst possible case [...] we know everything you're doing and the government can track you.[...] Part of the way I answer the question "How do you trust Google?" is the moment we did something untrustworthy to any one of you, everyone of you would know within 5 nanoseconds, and it would be come the conversation in the room and you all would move very quickly to a competitive choice.</blockquote>

  • In an <a href="" target="_hplink">interview</a> with a German website in May 2008, Schmidt spoke of the possible need for more and better consumer data protection. "We have the most advanced data protection and privacy policies in place," he <a href="" target="_hplink">said</a>, adding, "There is always room for improvement. At this stage from our perspective we think what we do is correct. But the industry is suffering from the fact that the people don´t necessarily do what they are saying they are doing."

  • "[Google has] made it easy for you to delete a phone number or credit card number without asking why so you can help protect yourself," Schmidt <a href="" target="_hplink">said</a> at the August 2006 Search Engine Strategies Conference. He went on: <blockquote>[...] Google is simply an aggregator of information. The people who publish that information better have a good reason for printing it. A little bit of judgment helps a lot. We worry a lot about this because we want Google to be used to be a positive force in the world." </blockquote>

  • “We are very early in the total information we have within Google," Schmidt <a href=",dwp_uuid=e8477cc4-c820-11db-b0dc-000b5df10621.html" target="_hplink">told</a> the Financial Times in May 2007. Schmidt went on to predict how he thought Google might look in five years: <blockquote>The algorithms will get better and we will get better at personalisation. [...] The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as "What shall I do tomorrow?" and "What job shall I take?" [...] We cannot even answer the most basic questions because we don’t know enough about you. That is the most important aspect of Google’s expansion.</blockquote>

  • Schmidt shared a vision of the future during TechCrunch Disrupt conference in September 2010. "It's a future where you don't forget anything," he <a href="" target="_hplink">said</a>. "In this new future you're never lost...We will know your position down to the foot and down to the inch over time...Your car will drive itself, it's a bug that cars were invented before're never're never're never out of ideas." Schmidt called this scenario "an augmented version of humanity."

  • "The best thing that would happen is for Facebook to open up its data," Schmidt <a href="" target="_hplink">told</a> an audience at Google's September 2010 Zeitgeist conference. "Failing that, there are other ways to get that information."