Do you know what is creepier than having a stranger living in the crawl space in your apartment?
This quote from Google CEO Eric Schmidt on CNBC last week:
“I think judgment matters. If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. But if you really need that kind of privacy the reality is that search engines, including Google, retain this information for some time.”
Strike that: they retain that information forever.
Schmidt is suggesting that wanting privacy – or having a secret – means you’re engaged in questionable activity. Secrets, Schmidt says, are bad. Privacy means you’re up to something.
There is little doubt that privacy has been the primary victim of the web. People have voluntarily given up privacy for the conveniences of opening up their personal lives. They like receiving discounts and suggested purchase ideas from retailers based on their past shopping habits. They enjoy sharing life experiences with a wider circle of friends and making new connections.
Most of us understand that convenience is, well, convenient. And in many fascinating ways, the web can help make our lives easier – and a lot faster. Information is at our fingertips and reaching out to friends and family has never been more simple – even if they live a continent away.
The dark side of having all of this instant information and 24/7 connectivity is that Google, social networking sites, and many others save, store, and mine our data. Every search. Every email. Every tweet. Saved. Forever.
But this idea that valuing privacy or having a secret means you’re engaged in nefarious behavior? That sound like something yanked from the pages of George Orwell’s “1984.”
Google needs to start treading carefully. There’s little doubt the company is emerging as one of the most dangerous private enterprises in the world. The data on individual’s alone is staggering, but it also has the power to direct or redirect its search users to other content. The company has already raised the ire of newspapers, magazines, and other content creators.
It can little afford a user backlash because of a cavalier attitude about privacy rights.
Larger questions are looming for Google – one that the United States and other nations will need to grapple sooner or later. Those questions are: Should any company be allowed to collect and store as much information on individuals as Google does? And ultimately – who really owns that information?
What do you think? Is Google still the good guy? Or have they been stepping over the line?