My Reaction to Eric Schmidt

Schmidt said:

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. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines -- including Google -- do retain this information for some time and it's important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities.

This, from 2006, is my response:

Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we're doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.

We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need.

[...]

For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that -- either now or in the uncertain future -- patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable.

[...]

This is the loss of freedom we face when our privacy is taken from us. This is life in former East Germany, or life in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And it's our future as we allow an ever-intrusive eye into our personal, private lives.

Too many wrongly characterize the debate as "security versus privacy." The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.

EDITED TO ADD: See also Daniel Solove's "'I've Got Nothing to Hide' and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy."

Posted on December 9, 2009 at 12:22 PM • 139 Comments

Comments

jamesDecember 9, 2009 12:33 PM

Dear Bruce,

The well thought-out, rational responses by yourself to power hungry, incompetent bureaucrats and their disciples is the sole reason why you are a personal hero of mine. You are a true american, keep up the good work!!!!

Another SchmidtDecember 9, 2009 12:52 PM

Google is quite aware of privacy concerns and Schmidt's quote is disingenuous. Google is commonly used research medical conditions, and most people are rightly private with information about their health -- information that may, in the future, affect their job performance, their relationships, and their social status. Especially when given a tentative diagnosis -- in the 1920's Carl Jung wrongly diagnosed the UK's central banker with insanity secondary to syphilis -- people need the ability to keep it private. This is neither hypothetical nor shameful, it is a simple and clear case of information that should be kept private. Eric Schmidt was pursued at times by people seeking insight into his marriage, so he should understand privacy.

Alexander van ElsasDecember 9, 2009 1:03 PM

Hi Bruce,

I wrote an open letter to Eric Schmidt today with a similar view. Privacy isn't just about hiding things, or assuming that things that you do not want to disclose could be bad things. It's about choice and freedom. The biggest issue imo is that Google, and others, implicitly take some of our privacy away in return for services.

If interested the letter is located here:
http://vanelsas.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/...

HJohnDecember 9, 2009 1:08 PM

Privacy isn't about getting away with illegal things. It's about being able to do what is legal and your business without having to answer to people who have no business questioning you to begin with.

RHDecember 9, 2009 1:09 PM

"If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him." - Cardinal Richelieu

ArchonDecember 9, 2009 1:22 PM

Well said, Bruce. I read that essay when you first released it and it's no less true today than it was in 2006.

Another good read in regard to the "nothing to hide" argument is a paper written by Daniel J. Solove, an associate law professor from George Washington University, entitled "'I've Got Nothing to Hide,' And Other Misunderstandings of Privacy". In fact, Solove references Bruce's linked "The Eternal Value of Privacy" essay.

I had hoped that much of the anti-privacy rhetoric in the U.S. would have subsided by now, but alas, no.

kashmarekDecember 9, 2009 1:22 PM

Bravo for your stand. Let those who champion "have nothing to hide" be the first to let everyone else examine their private lives (i.e. Congress, the White House, NSA, CIA, FBI et al). Those seemingly in power want all your information but hide behind the very protections that they would deny you, in order to hide their information.

Robin WiltonDecember 9, 2009 1:31 PM

And kashmarek... there's also the point that, even if there are folks out there who want to live "the declarative life", whether I do so or not should be a matter of choice for me, not a factor driven by *their* choice.

My own rant on the topic via the URL, if you are interested...

Jared LesslDecember 9, 2009 1:45 PM

Is it just me, or can Schmidt's quote be read as having a subtext with a helpful warning. Basically, "if you don't want this seen by anyone else, don't do it in a semi-public forum like the internet, because data on our servers is not 100% under our control and even the most committed dedication to user data privacy can be pushed aside with warrants and invasive legislation".

If he had said "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it _online_ in the first place", there'd be no doubt in my mind that was what he meant.

JohnJSDecember 9, 2009 1:55 PM

"It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it." - Upton Sinclair

In this case the man is Schmidt, not Bruce :-).

John BDecember 9, 2009 2:10 PM

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Ben Franklin, 1775

John CampbellDecember 9, 2009 2:12 PM

One consistently glaring meme is that...

"respectability is inversely proportional to sexuality"

Which means that exposure of this particular biological drive can be used to diminish someone in public life.

(I was tempted to mis-spell "public" in the sentence above but managed to resist doing so but am remarking on it so some folks can smile.)

Carlo GrazianiDecember 9, 2009 2:20 PM

@Jared Lessl:

To outward appearance, this is in fact what he's saying --- no defense against subpoenas, warrants, etc.

Note, however, that this is utterly disingenuous, because it glosses over the fact that nobody forces Google to _keep_ that data. They could delete it immediately, or within a few days. If they did so, the "Law Enforcement Can Make Us Screw You" argument evaporates.

The reason they don't delete the data is, of course, that mining that data for ad targeting is the central core of their business model. That is, Google deliberately creates this privacy vulnerability, because it's how they make money.

Schmidt, who ostensibly believes in "Don't Be Evil", evidently does not regard this fundamentally sociopathic choice as constituting "evil", presumably for the reason encapsulated by the bit of Sinclair quoted above by JohnJS.

It should be noted that it is a mistake to conflate the threat to privacy and liberty from private companies like Google with that from government. In a real sense, the threat from corporations is much more difficult to control: government is ultimately accountable to us, whereas Google is only accountable to its shareholders, who only judge it by whether it makes money.

BrianDecember 9, 2009 2:56 PM

I whole heartedly agree. Those who collect information about us should always make it clear they are doing so, what they are collecting, and why. They should also give an opt-out option if using the services they provide don't require collecting that information. And they should always give an opt-out from the service altogether (or, more appropriately, be opt-in so you are always opting out unless you subscribe). I like google collecting information on my because it gives me far better search results. Some people don't, but they should still be able to get the less accurate results that google can provide. I don't like advertisers collecting that information because they use it to abuse me.

RobertDecember 9, 2009 3:05 PM

There are a lot of pithy quotes available for intelligent retort. Many of them have been posted here. And the reason there are so many good quotes is most certainly because of the popularity of such an obvious fallacy.

Eric Schmidt is terribly intelligent, and I can't believe he's so foolish as to believe that if you don't want people knowing about your sex life that you shouldn't be having sex. Otherwise, I think we would all invite him to twitter or maintain a live video feed on all his personal and private matters for public consumption and scrutiny. Can we get Tiger to debate this privacy thing? I’m sure he’d be pretty passionate about it.

On a more serious note, as Jared Lessl comments above, I'd like to think that Schmidt's comment governs posting or searching for things on the Internet rather than the actions themselves. That is, don't search for ‘vd’ on google if you don't want people to know or think you have vd. This argument is still full of holes, because it suggests that the very value of the Internet is immediately degraded in relation to the importance of privacy relative to it. Thus, if I believe I may have hemorrhoids, you ought not to search for information about it on the Internet unless you are willing to post a big sign on your home or add the line to your E-mail signature, “I think I might be suffering from hemorrhoids at this time.”

Furthermore, I’d like to note: have you ever met someone who lived under a no-privacy regime before? A lot of them would be considered suffers of delusional paranoia by American standards. They don’t tell anything about themselves and get really nervous if you ask them questions. Growing up in the US, I never would’ve thought that we’d come to a point where unrestricted secret government wiretaps(FISA), torture, and privacy invasion would become hallmarks of American society.

I’m tempted to use the Google Toolkit to write a random search engine that runs in the background, like SETI@Home that runs Google searches with meaningless strings, which in turn pollutes the databases making them so full of junk that they’re useless (yes I understand the limitations here).

HJohnDecember 9, 2009 3:07 PM

Four components of data tracking controls:

Notice - notify people what is being collected and how it will be used.

Choice - people should have the option to not have the data collected, even if it means they are not going to use the site.

Access - people should have a mechanism to correct errant data, and even have data deleted, where appropriate.

Security - data should be secured, where appropriate.

Not perfect, but in a nutshell that would improve a lot of it.

jacobDecember 9, 2009 3:09 PM

A great response Bruce.
Quantum Mechanics says when you observe a thing, it changes. People are the same way.

The simple act of observation changes people's behavior. Political parties/groups recently have been taking pictures of people protesting and even our government is guilty of this behavior in the past.

I saw video of a protest and an activist was shoving a camera literally inches from someone's face and taking pictures of everybody. I am not sure how I would have reacted. As far as I'm concerned, it's intimidation.

I genuinely wonder where privacy and discourse are headed in this country. Everything that is done to protect us from pedos, terrorists, etc. I'm far more likely to be hit by lightning from my PC than be hurt in attack. If you have nothing to hide? Everyone who makes that statement should be issued a camera and made to walk everywhere broadcasting the live feed. Hey, John sounds like you need to eat more fiber....

extra helping of 419December 9, 2009 3:49 PM

I bet I'm not the only person who's seen a term (like "420") on the net and looked up the meaning on google.

derfDecember 9, 2009 3:58 PM

If Eric Schmidt thinks so little of privacy, then he wouldn't mind if someone stalked him with a camera and posted pics to the internet of his bathroom and/or bedroom ventures, right?

From a search engine perspective, so what if I search for VD. Maybe my kid is doing a book report for the GLSEN fisting class. Maybe I had a keyboard malfunction or mistyped.

God love her, but my wife was screaming in terror a few months ago - she went to "dicks.com" looking for Dick's Sporting Goods and didn't like the results. Should that make her a sex offender? Searching for "dicks" doesn't mean I'm gay or some kind of pervert - I could be innocently looking for Dick's Sporting Goods.

AnnaDecember 9, 2009 4:03 PM

"f you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. " - that can be an interesting criteria when you look at your own actions, but it only works under the assumption that those who will know what you do won't do anything *they* shouldn't do, like abuse their power. Which brings me exactly to your first sentence.

HJohnDecember 9, 2009 4:14 PM

Things can always be taken out of context as well. Any off handed comments out of anger can be called motive, for example. (A text reads "Ugh, he makes me so mad I could kill him!" Next, you have Gil Grisson saying "was it really an accident, or were the brakes tampered with.")

There is also the very real issue of mistakes. Just last night, I went to book a hotel and instead of typing HotWire.com, I typed HotWife.com.

Anonymous DudeDecember 9, 2009 4:39 PM

iGoogle personalizes your Google homepage! What users fail to realize is it links your username to your search history providing a complete search record mapped to your email address. Know what your signing up for as even legit technologies have privacy pitfalls.

GrumpyDecember 9, 2009 4:56 PM

Did you ever notice, many will say or act as if privacy is not an issue. Of course, this only true until it comes to their or their family's own privacy. Then you here, "But that's different! My response, "Bravo Sierra"

Hey Nony MouseDecember 9, 2009 5:02 PM

Robert : Can we get Tiger to debate this privacy thing? I’m sure he’d be pretty passionate about it.

The fact that are jokes doing the rounds that call him

Tiger "10 Woodie" Wood

I think answers the question...

Brett MorganDecember 9, 2009 5:09 PM

We were all brought up in fear of the ever present Eye. 1984's television's with built in cameras that allowed the state to see all, and control all.

The truth turned out to be a little different. Yes, there are cameras everywhere, there is one in my laptop's casing, there is one in my phone. I expect there to be cameras every where, turned on all the time.

And I expect we will find out that a lot of people who have not been practicing what they preach.

Clive RobinsonDecember 9, 2009 5:16 PM

In reality it is not about privacy or security or even freedom.

It is about the contempt those with significant money hold the rest of the population.

I'm told that in the US "personal data" belongs to whom ever collects it.

You then find that to get any type of good or service you "have" to hand over "personal data".

It has reached the point where it is not possible to exist in modern society without being "held to ransom" by those wishing to profit from your "personal data".

The various 1st world governments are just climbing on the band waggon.

We already see "Police Interviews" being put out on TV and "snippits of CCTV" footage being used to make programs.

As I said it is "contempt of the fellow man" anybody with any kind of morals would realise that this is wrong.

However you try to fight by treating these people with the same level of contempt and you will find they can afford to buy their privacy through lawyers etc.

Bertil HattDecember 9, 2009 5:50 PM

I'm with Jared Lessl on this one.

Sorry Bruce: I'm positive you know far more then I do about internet security, but this is about assuming someone is self-contradicting. I can't agree with you on that one. Eric Schmidt knows this way too well to have said that in the way you interpret it. If anyone in power has secrets he'd like to keep safe, it's him: I've heard about (former) mistresses, Burning Man, etc. He's been a victim of that.

He cannot publicly oppose the Patriot Act, but he certainly would rather avoid what he describes. He can be honest about it and explain that the services his company provide are dependant on a business model that demands that he keeps data a long time, and that the laws in most countries can force him to share that data. He's asking people to be reasonable because otherwise, he'd be the one getting the blame for an absurd law, set up by an Administration he disapproved of.

He's not wrong, simply an adult talking to adults: he doesn't control the law, so you should behave accordingly, instead of blaming him whatever he does, says or keeps silent. If you have issues with that, write to the person who can take a decision; that would be your MP or congressman.

AntonDecember 9, 2009 6:02 PM

Privacy is also about shielding yourself from those that might not show proper respect.

Ironically, the perpetrators of the western capitalistic system (those in power) are the ones who build the biggest walls and keep the longest passwords because they have most to loose.

SvenDecember 9, 2009 6:06 PM

That's a big heads up for any Google users in Iran and China: "maybe you shouldn't be [demanding liberty] in the first place".

Or closer to home: If you insist on keeping santas gifts a secret all the way to Christmas you're probably a bad boy! No pudding for you!

DDecember 9, 2009 6:09 PM

There have to be studies on animal behavior and what happens when you remove privacy from an animal's living condition. I'm specifically thinking about research involving primates in zoos. My hypothesis is that privacy is an inherent need in all primates, and that, without privacy, a primate will develop psychological disorders. There must be some research on this topic that could be very persuasive.

Mr DrengDecember 9, 2009 6:14 PM

Go live in a university apartment in China for a while, teaching english or something. You'll certainly get to value the idea of privacy. Some examples: The guards at the school gates phone someone whenever they see you leaving. People follow you around (without approaching to try and practise English with you). The phones in your apartment can listen while they're on the hook. You know when a student in your class has been told to phone someone if you don't turn up or leave early: the other students hear about it and suddenly lose respect for you, and when you get home, your apartment's been walked thru. One time I left some money hidden in my apartment: it didn't take long for my only break-in to occur.
As you say, privacy laws protect us from abuses by those in power.

Carlo GrazianiDecember 9, 2009 6:14 PM

@Bertil Hatt:

Again, that's a disingenuous excuse. Yes, the Feds can compel disclosures. But no, the Feds don't mandate that that data be retained in the first place. Google's business plan mandates that.

Google mines that data and turns it into revenue. In essence, they deliberately choose to place the privacy of people who use their service in potential legal jeopardy, because they make money that way.

Google could easily Fed-proof everybody's personal data, by deleting it after a day or two, or at least by anonymizing it beyond reconstruction. They _choose_ not to do so.

The business about the authorities having power of compulsion is a red herring. I'm sure Schmidt would prefer the discussion to remain on the subject of government authority rather than on the subject of Google's privacy-hostile business model

Anon Y. MouseDecember 9, 2009 6:36 PM


How much personal information about Eric Schmidt is available
via Google? Can you see his house on StreetView, etc.?
That should be a good indication if he walks the walk, or
if he just talks the talk.

Arthur KlassenDecember 9, 2009 6:39 PM

Right on, Bruce.

Foolish comments like that of Mr. Schmidt indicate the danger that could occur if the world becomes a hydraulic empire. The Internet has become necessary to us all. What will happen if attitudes like this allow it to come under the control of the would-be Big Brothers who administer the mediacracies we find ourselves in?

Dierdre58December 9, 2009 7:17 PM

Amen, amen, and amen.

It is totally frightening to see the influence that Google has at the White House.

Casey01December 9, 2009 8:30 PM

Everyone knows what Google's business model is and how it generates revenue. If you don't like that Google collects information on you, stop using it. It's pretty simple. Good luck finding another search engine, email provider, etc that doesn't keep records on you, logs your traffic, etc. Privacy on the internet is a myth

Alex von ThornDecember 9, 2009 9:16 PM

I'm not a philosopher, so maybe I don't understand "freedom". I live a rather declarative live; I have a Nexus card so I can cross the border faster, which means the government(s) have my fingerprints and know when I cross. I book airfare on Expedia, and I usually blog about my travel plans. But it seems pretty likely to me that the idea of privacy of information is the basic principle for the Fourth Amendment and that people who are philosophers consider this necessary to a free society.

However I think the problem is understood. It's not about whether or not the government should have access to personal information, it's that the government, and corporations and even individuals, can obtain a lot of information to wield power over others. As consumers and citizens, we need to demand that corporations and governments be prevented from using technology that infringes on our core elements of privacy. Among other things, privacy is an essential component of freedom of religion and freedom of association. That's only going to work when we vote with our ballots and our wallets. When politicians' jobs depend on providing privacy, not just security, and when companies can make a profit by respecting people's privacy (or lose profit by not respecting it), then we'll start seeing solutions that work for us. I do have confidence in the ingenuity of the private sector. I have less confidence in the intelligence of consumers and voters to demand their freedom. That could mean a two-tier society where the elites get privacy and the masses don't.

If privacy becomes a commodity, I can probably make enough money to afford it, but I'd still prefer it to be considered an aspect of basic social infrastructure, not just a privilege of the rich.

fjpoblamDecember 9, 2009 9:56 PM

Some of you may be interested in the thread at webmasterworld: http://bit.ly/4GdXmK - GOOG has decided on an opt-in-by-default policy, for tracking your searches, even when you're NOT logged on to a GOOG account.

Thus, when you search on GOOG, you're agreeing to their Terms Of Service upon the first click! (Have you seen their Terms Of Service, and what the TOS say about what information is being stored about you, for how long?)

You might well want to consider a different search engine.

AlbatrossDecember 9, 2009 10:21 PM

Here is my object lesson in privacy. Take heed.

I have had an unlisted phone number since 1983. In 1989 I was on an e-mail list and I sent a fellow list member my home phone number. Remember, 1989: no Web, not even Gopher yet. Just e-mail.

Somebody archived that mailing list, and sometime during the 1990's Google snarfed it up.

Despite being unlisted for over a quarter of a century, it is possible to search Google and find my current home phone number.

When somebody tells you your privacy is safe, keep in mind it is only safe from threats that presently exist. In 1989 I could not imagine that Google posed a threat to the privacy of my phone number. But it did!

mike davisDecember 9, 2009 11:10 PM

here here! well said.
keep up the good fight, we are still owed the right to privacy our forefathers saw as a basic tenet of american democracy.

PackagedBlueDecember 9, 2009 11:49 PM

Privacy is important, but it is gone, eventually everything is known and exists only as a negotiated right or commodity market.

We are in an information arms race. Data collection is just a small part of the information race.

Survival today is information warfare, economic and people negotiation.

Protracted warfare is always bad for the state, but this war, is constant. More support for EFF, etc would be nice.

Too bad that so little debate revolves around how to keep societies balances in check. Too bad that we are still playing out the bad strategies of containment of the cold war. Church and state, is like privacy and pragmatism with the effects of the all seeing eye...

JeremyDecember 10, 2009 12:04 AM

Perhaps Eric was making an innocent mistake with his words? Perhaps he wasn't thinking about the possible implications of what he was saying. Well I have said many things and wish I had not when the scope was larger than I thought.

NickDecember 10, 2009 12:28 AM

Surely, Schmidt cannot be so naive as to believe privacy is about 'not doing anything wrong'? We *are* talking about a man whose company has come to an agreement with the Chinese government, and who sings the praises of USA PATRIOT.

This is not some ivory-tower computer genius new to the concept. He's been smack-dab in the middle of debates on privacy and freedom, and he's always chosen what is best for his pocketbook - not necessarily anyone's freedom.

benDecember 10, 2009 2:28 AM

Suppose that you have two pieces of paper, one in each hand. One contains a datum that you feel should enjoy bounds of classification/privilege, while the other contains a list of people.

In the perfect world that Mr. Schmidt wants us all to live in, that list is a long whitelist, or it contains a single item: "Everybody."

For most of us, that list is a blacklist of variable length. When I hand my datum over to a service, I am implicitly trusting that service to keep my data out of the hands of the people on the blacklist.

It appears that Schmidt - and by implication, many decisionmakers at Google - seem to miss the fact that most individuals are inherently unwilling to let that implicit trust grow without limit.

The mandate to keep information offline that you don't want in general circulation is rather a no-brainer, but it's not a surprise that most people don't apply that much critical thinking to the problem.

That Google and social networks encourage the uninitiated to pour out their entire lives into their profiles is... wrong.

Particular Random GuyDecember 10, 2009 3:02 AM

Google is not about letting anyone know, it's about letting *everyone* one know.

hwKeitelDecember 10, 2009 3:06 AM

i agree with both.
everything that Bruce Schneier wrotes is correct, but it is not the whole truth.
Eric Schmidt shows to us one consequence of data mining, the Patriot Act and so on.
I agree with Mr. Schneier; it is the worst consequence, but it's reality.
hiding yourself because you are afraid (or paranoid?) and privacy are not the same. the second is a right you have, the first you are forced to do (you feel you are forced to adjust yourself).

Eamon NerbonneDecember 10, 2009 3:54 AM

Having listened the the interview, it looks to me like the interview was intentionally cut to pull this statement out of context. It looks like Schmidt was merely suggesting that the reality of the current situation is that information you post online can be viewed fairly easily by law enforcement. In fact, service providers are even *legally required* to retain identifying information for a minimum period to help law enforcement in some places (such as here, in the Netherlands); so Schmidt's statement strikes me as merely being a colloquially expressed common sense opinion that's been taken out of context.

It's a real shame that the poor journalism underlying this is being rewarded with such attention; I think you should remove the link to their site and explain the nuance and lack of context they provide. No need to boost their ad-revenue for posting inflammatory (witness the many comments), misleading content.

WinterDecember 10, 2009 4:28 AM

Just to show how empty the quote is: "nothing to hide, nothing to fear"

Durham police demonstrate DNA will stuff you
Possession of non-illegal substance will still arse up your prospects
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/12/10/...

"However, it is in police remarks relating to the consequence of possessing mephedrone that the greatest concerns are to be found. Barnard Castle-based Inspector Kevin Tuck is reported as saying: "In Durham police have taken a stance and anyone found with it will be arrested on suspicion of possession of a banned substance."

He adds: "They will be taken to a police cell, their DNA and fingerprints taken and that arrest, depending upon enquiries, could have serious implications for example on future job applications" (our italics)."

Winter

averrosDecember 10, 2009 4:54 AM

Eric Schmidt: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

aka "If you didn't do anything wrong you've got nothing to hide"

Schmidt is a stupid corporate hack without any discernible conscience.

"we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities."

Then don't collect it, dummy.

A distributed P2P search engine, anyone? I don't think Google can be trusted -- Google CEO pretty much confirmed that they are willing informants to the powers that are. I wonder if they are preparing lists of the "extremists" for the Feds by checking who searched for any unapproved version of history or political theory.

WigharDecember 10, 2009 5:20 AM

A good point indeed good sir, without the right of privacy (in sense of legal or illegal acts) we may just as well become a collective entity like the borg (star trek ref.)

Clive RobinsonDecember 10, 2009 6:05 AM

@ Particular Random Guy,

"Google is not about letting anyone know, it's about letting *everyone* one know."

If that where true I would accept Mr Schmidt's view as that of a stary eyed idealist, not a rapacious marketing person on the make.

The simple truth is Google are responsive to MegaCorp and BigGov whilst pandering to the rest of us.

All personal feelings aside that is the pond Google swims in and you have to be a voracious minow to become a shark with any life expectancy.

Outside of religion marketing is the largest "industry" in the world. It easily outperforms 90% of the countries in the world.

Google I guess is still a guest at the table doing party favours to be accepted. It is no secret that the deal with Mr R Murdoc is not to their liking and Mr Murdoc is about to destroy his media empire with Pay Walls and piric litigation (which google appears to be side steping for now).

Once the likes of Mr Murdoc are out of the way by their out moded thinking and being on the wrong end of the marketing money supply that leaves the likes of Google as news and data agrigators and they will in time become the new Media Barrons

Their problem has always been income and that is the very life blood of such enterprises traditionaly it has been as the "output end" of marketing. Google has found this does not work so they appear to be trying the input side of marketing (ie the other end of the marketing money supply).

If we want to stop this and get some privacy back then there has to be a third way. And that is likley to be "micro charging" on content.

Otherwise we will need to evolve rapidly over the next couple of generations, and as Douglas Adams once pointed out "talk endlessly about the weather to blot out the effects of the most terrible of social diseses" (effectivly telepathy by 100% information availability).

tbDecember 10, 2009 6:22 AM

A fundamental component to the argument is that certain people think that the internet is private — or that it should be regarded as such.

It isn't.

The internet is not like your bedroom, nor a conversation with your doctor or lawyer. It's much more like a loud bazaar, or perhaps masquerade party. There may anonymity, but anyone can get close enough to eavesdrop on your discussion.

Seeking privacy through anonymity is very much like the notion of security through obscurity.

BF SkinnerDecember 10, 2009 6:48 AM

"because data on our servers is not 100% under our control "

So much for Google cloud. He answers the question "Can we trust this vendor with our data."

Lawful warrents and supeonas aside if he can't establish control over his own IT enviornment? No.

BF SkinnerDecember 10, 2009 6:51 AM

Annoyed but not yet passionate?

Try the Passive aggressive response nr 3.

There's a button on the search page "I'm Feeling Lucky". It takes you to the top of the search heap. It also bypasses googles ads and costs them money.
Every time you use it they do not profit from your search.
Use it.

gattacaDecember 10, 2009 7:00 AM

@tb: it is not that simple. the majority of information is not deliberatly *put* into public. It is collected by third parties, many time unbeknownst to you. It is a difference if someone puts lots of fotos and stuff on a facebook side and participates on a social network or if his ISP is logging his DNS requests and stores the data for later use.
It is the difference of locking yourself in in the toilet or being locked in into the toilet by others.

hwKeitelDecember 10, 2009 7:37 AM

@tb
"...people think that the internet is private..."

i always have a problem with "the internet". what is that? email, http, P2P, Ethernet, Bluetooth, facebook?
"the internet" is vague. what about old fashioned telephone network or mail?

"If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

When you look at social networks it is true, but my letters (email or paper) are private. not only the content, but also the addressee.

If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't publish it in the first place.
do we have a choice?

in europe the payments for agricultural and fishing aid are released. Is this transparency or the publication of business secrets? what about other aid money, other industries?

it's a question of power. Google is powerful, a government is powerful, one person is not very powerful.

Bill from Wine For NewbiesDecember 10, 2009 7:52 AM

I could not have said it better myself. We've suffered massive losses of privacy to the government and corporations, but like the frog in a pot of cool water being heated, we do not notice the subtle changes over time.

CoyoteDecember 10, 2009 8:38 AM

Google == East Germany or Hussein's Iraq?

Wow, Schneier, you came dangerously close to a Godwin there. Good thing you said East Germany and not the N-word... and when I read the comments here, I'm amazed at how many people obviously forgot to take their medication this morning.

Google is not the government. If you give them your information, they can hold onto it and do whatever they want with in as long as they stay within the confines of the law. That includes the obligation to turn it over under the Patriot Act, etc..

You pick some bad examples. Google isn't in your bedroom, your bathroom, or your private journal... Unless you willingly show those things to Google or others.

If you don't want Google knowing about your sex life, DON'T PUT IT ON THE INTERNET. (And I'm not talking about searches here, I'm talking about blogging about it and whining later that it's up on Google for good.)

Remember, Google can't get anything that's behind a login or a privacy setting, unless the site in question allows Google's crawler to bypass authentication. (And some do, but that's not Google' s fault.)

I think the point Schmidt was trying to make, and one you and everyone else has misconstrued, was about criminal activity. Stuff you really SHOULDN'T be doing. If you Google for how to do it, there's a record that can be used as evidence.

hwKeitelDecember 10, 2009 9:03 AM

@Coyote

you are right with google != Eastern Germany etc.

but publishing your private life and being scanned is also someting different.

this is not about blameing Google for everything.
"Don't be evil" != "we scan your mails for improved advertising"

I'm very happy about the "East Germany" analogy, because many people, even in former East Germany, forget about what happen. sometimes, governments and states choose the wronge way. surveillance has a deep impact on the community and the behaviour of people.

jbDecember 10, 2009 9:36 AM

I'd like to see someone remove all the doors on the bathroom stalls at Google and then see if Schmidt feels the same way.

gattacaDecember 10, 2009 9:37 AM

@Coyote: no, it is not about criminal activity. It is about pervasive survaillence. Mind you: the definition of "criminal activity" is not in your hands and can change rapidly over time. Your record of DNS-requests (google offers DNS now, how convenient!) prevails. Having this in mind is like living in the proverbial panopticon (by Bentham) - its changing your behaviour. This is dangerous in itself because it restricts the ability for free speech and information.

fjpoblamDecember 10, 2009 9:55 AM

With GOOG's decision to opt-in-by-default on tracking your search history, they're invading your privacy upon your first search.

You're *implicitly* signing their TOS by "using the service"! Thus, they have "the right" to track your information (your searches)!

That includes, my six-year-old who invades my laptop and does a GOOG search. (GOOG apparently is taking it upon themselves to have the right potentially to obligate the services and invade the privacy of six-year-olds.)

Invasion of privacy? Hell yes!!!

Outtanames999December 10, 2009 11:04 AM

Google has a problem, especially now that it bought Doubleclick. Doubleclick's sole reason for existing is to collect data about the pages viewed and ads clicked by Internet users. That's a lot of data to be responsible for and a lot of risk with respect to misuse. It's quite possible that not even Google can afford the consequences of keeping all that data.

But, given the ease with which Google organizes data, it should be a trivial matter for them to display to you all of the data it has collected about you and provide you with the ability to delete it if you so desire.

Google wants to be the library to the world. It wants to collect, store and index the web and books themselves. But Google is no librarian.

Now imagine walking into the library (a real library - oh and when is the last time you were in one? if it has been a long time, I suggest you go again) and finding that the meek mild-mannered Marians the Librarians behind the desk are actually beat cops, FBI agents and CIA agents, silently recording everything you do, say, and read - in other words, collecting all possible observable data about you and sending it all back to headquarters.

For the Internet user, that is what Google is doing - collecting all possible observable data. And of course, Google is not the only one to collect this data, just the most well known.

For the web site owner who wants to protect some content or data, imagine a home or office in a town where, regardless of whether you have subscribed to their service, garbage collectors roam the town, walking onto properties, pushing on doors and windows of homes and businesses and entering any that are unlocked or whose locks are broken or poorly made or give way, and collecting whatever they find there, cataloging it, "copying" it, and keeping the copy as long as they like.

Imagine further a world in which you have no idea what information Google has and what it doesn't have and you have no practical way to find out.

Imagine also that the government has only to supoena evidence about you from Google without you ever knowing.

Oh wait, that is the world we live in already. What then are we to do?

I say what's data for the goose is data for the gander. As to Google therefore, spider Google. As to the government, we need to know more about them than they know about us so start building your own database on them.


TruePathDecember 10, 2009 11:26 AM

Try having someone take your own conversations down word for word and go back and see how many stupid things you say. Even in the cut down clip I feet the most plausible interpratation was that Schmidt was trying to suggest that if you don't want certain information stored in other people's caches then maybe you shouldn't put it on the public internet.



I mean how many people here honestly believe if you had asked Schmidt the second after that statement whether he felt people should avoid sex unless they want sex vids on the internet he would have said yes? I suspect no one. Since that's the literal meaning of his statement I think it's fair to conclude he failed to really communicate his view.

tdigentiDecember 10, 2009 11:36 AM

This conversation concerns me. Clearly people are or can be upset, but I don't see how this can be pinned on Google, simply because they are pretty good at doing what they do, collecting all the worlds information and making it available. This not a bad thing, in and of itself, is it? Of course Google has to follow a business model of sorts, how else can a company succeed. I mean, are we saying that Google is 'corrupt'. I can't see that this is a given; Mr. Schmidt may have expressed himself naively but at least he was communicating; at least he was open to some kind of engagement. Google is not a super large company, comparatively, and I suspect that they are being singled out simply because they are very visible. Do not other companies behave in ways that warrant our concern. Are they less vocal hence less visible? All companies, including Google, operate in a political climate wherein abuse of individual privacy is becoming more common place and troublesome. Are larger companies responsible for this situation and/or exacerbating it? Would there be any dialog at all if we lived in a culture where political privacy was fully honored and guaranteed. It would seem that our government is interested in identifying those citizens who are 'compliant' and those who are 'not compliant'. The non compliant ones would be those who question governmental motives and regard transparency and truth as a necessity for individual well being. I do not think that information in itself is a harmful thing, abuse of information is troubling. Should we not be concerning ourselves with abusers of information rather than the collectors of information.
Also; all large companies have questionable practices so it seems. This is how corporate America survives, so it seems. Are we going to target a simple pimple because it happens to be on our face and ignore the failing immune system that lies deeper within?

TruePathDecember 10, 2009 11:51 AM

Also I want to point out that your response (the essay) conflates several different issues and cherry picks examples to reach your desired conclusion.

For instance I think the most extreme example of loss of privacy is the relatively innocuous one of pre-industrial villages where people often live in multi-generational (if not multi-family) dwellings and in communities that are small enough for everyone to hear the gossip. The east german secret police did far more awful things but which situation do you think it would be easier to keep secret the fact that you exclaim "gumdrop" when you have an orgasm?



Also, yes, americans would feel deeply embarassed being seen in the restroom but notice that there are plenty of cultures that don't share that sensibility. Yes, when we think about someone overhearing our conversation it appalls us but that's no argument for stopping the erosion of privacy. If privacy erodes our customs will change and the mere existance of someone overhearing won't bother us.



What people need is a certain level of social invisibility for things like sex or the restroom. That is they need to beleive what they do in these activities won't cause them to be disapproved of or cost them jobs or health insurance. Privacy is one means of doing this but so is a cultural practice like they have in Amsterdam of firmly keeping their noses out of other people's buisness. When you take away privacy from the ground up (rather than spy on people from the top down) people just tend to transform their social prohibitions about not peeking in on someone in the restroom into the social pretense of not noticing what other people do there.



I mean if you've ever been to a public restroom you know what I mean (though it's still uncomfortably unfamiliar for us..and dirty) we can all hear exactly what is going on in the next stall but one rarely if ever brings it up in conversation nor do most men talk when they are in the restroom....in other words we bring a social shielf of invisibility instead of a real one.


I don't know if privacy is a net good or not. Most of the problems with respect ot privacy violation are really the result of differential levels of privacy. When everyone has access to 6 pages written by ever person on the planet those out of context quotes become far less damning. Similarly many of the activities that privacy protects from tyrannical interference are only temptations for regulation because it's not apparent how widespread the 'bad' activities really are. I mean on a static analysis it might seem that if everyone could see on your facebook page when you were looking at porn it would lcause the people who looked at it problems maybe even persecution. Maybe for a short period of time but pretty quickly the reverse would actually happen as people realized how many of their upstanding friends and neightbors looked at porn and just lied about it. It's a tough question and I just don't know.

DavidDecember 10, 2009 12:51 PM

@tb: Except that the Internet is not like a loud bazaar. Suppose I'm looking for something embarrassing at a bazaar. I ask a vendor, we have a conversation. At that point, I've taken some risk, but it's limited. Anybody there could have paid attention to our conversation, and the vendor might remember me later. If anybody else wanted to know what I was looking for, well, it's too late to find out.

Now, suppose I'm looking for something embarrassing online, and I do a Google search. Anybody doing packet-sniffing or shoulder-surfing can find what I'm looking for, and this is analogous with the situation at the bazaar. Now, anybody who can get information out of Google, either now or at any later time, can find that I was looking for X embarrassing thing at Y time.

There's a difference there. There's always been a certain amount of likely anonymity in conducting business with strangers in public places, and that's going away. This has a really big psychological and sociological impact, and the only reasons it hasn't had a legal impact are that (a) not enough people have been hit by this yet, and (b) people in power generally find it convenient if the rest of us don't have as much privacy as we think we do.

WillemDecember 10, 2009 1:35 PM

Thanks for your perfectly phrased comment on the importance of privacy. I have taken the liberty to translate your statement in dutch in order to place it on a website concerning privacy (not yet operational though). In the Netherlands the privacy is every year broken down further by new legislation I've of course included you as the author and linked to your original .

AppSecDecember 10, 2009 1:38 PM

Things to note..

(1) The bazaar is an interesting comparison -- after all, the shopkeeper can sit there and relay that to everyone he talks to (while describing you). So, what you thought was a private communication has turned into something else.

(2) Comparing Google to a Library is an interesting mechanism.. Except for the fact that almost ALL of the data at a library is public data by nature (I don't think the average person's private journals are availabe to be lent out for the day). That said, they do monitor it by tracking who checks out books. So, there is a record there (either that or I should have a refund of all those late fees I was charged as a kid). Google is no different in that regard (in this case, the checking out is the search itself, but it could just as easily track the link you clicked on and really be no different).

(3) Google's problem is that it presumes that all data on the network which it can get to is meant for public viewing. This is different from a library whose data is submitted for sharing (at least it was at one point or another). Google proactively crawls the Internet.

I think by that nature, Schmidt is right (and the comment someone stated that he left off "Internet" is correct). If you do put something on the Internet, then you better be sure you are okay with others finding out -- or don't put it on the Net.

That is, at least, until the rules of engagement change and the only way things can be indexed in a search engine is *if* they are submitted to that engine.

HaggieDecember 10, 2009 2:35 PM

The privacy issue is political hypocrisy at its best.

The old adage might need to be updated: "Those that want everyone to live in glass houses shouldn't wear their wives high heels & ball gag while snorting meth with a gay hooker in their hotel room."

mark baardDecember 10, 2009 3:05 PM

Outstanding response, Bruce.

Also, when Schmidt says, "we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities..." isn't that simply wrong?

My understanding that only suspected terrorists were subject to the Patriot Act.

Clive RobinsonDecember 10, 2009 3:31 PM

@ tdigenti,

"I do not think that information in itself is a harmful thing, abuse of information is troubling."

What is "abuse"?

I'm not being funny here, you definition of abuse might not align with mine.

For instance people tend to follow the principle of "Occames Razor".

The problem with this is it only applies if all the relavent information is available.

Which gives rise to what is "relavent"?

If you follow the logic down you can only come to one conclusion about another persons information release 0% of it or 100% of it anything else is effectivly abuse.

As 100% of information is unavailable then this leaves only the 0% option.

But society needs some information to function but to much will destroy society as we currently belive it to be.

Which sugests the only sane and sensible route is to release as little information as possible.

But also not only that the information remains under the control of the individual but that they can veto others from releasing info that might impact on them.

For instance what if one of your more distant relatives released your family tree?

And what if another of those revealed a genetic defect in the family line.

This means that google or who ever gets the data can say there is a probability that you have the same genetic trait.

This might have significant impact on your ability to work, travel or obtain equitable treatment by others.

richDecember 10, 2009 5:36 PM

As a Google (and other corporations) shareholder, I have no qualms about making their boardrooms answer to their lack of ethics.

RasDecember 10, 2009 7:18 PM

When did we become such a sniveling nation of whining pussies? Look - do you think Google wants to post photos of your fat ass making love or taking a dump? What Eric was referring to is that criminals are actually using the internet to commit or help commit crimes. If needed, law enforcement should access this data to put them away. Why are we so afraid to give law enforcement all the tools at their disposal to lock up crooks? Or would you rather pedophiles be able to circulate child porn freely and without fear of repercussions because they know the ACLU and other liberal pussies will defend their sordid acts just because it so happens that they got caught doing their thing using the internet? How is this any different then those cameras they place at traffic signals - looking to pounce on the red light runners? Basically ANYONE on the road can be photographed but unless you break the traffic law this blanket surveillance will not affect you.

Get over yourselves people - your lives are not that interesting that so many legitimate businesses want to spy on you.

Ctrl-Alt-DelDecember 10, 2009 8:24 PM

Re: "we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act ..."

... and those of us NOT in the US, theoretically, are not - but Google recognises no national borders. I have seen things I posted on Australian-only websites turn up in Google searches I've made from overseas. So in practice whenever I post something on the internet I have to consider how my opinions might be received by the all-compassionate, all-knowing US Government just in case someday I want to revisit the US.

(I have avoided visiting the US since they started routinely fingerprinting arriving visitors. I have nothing to hide, but I can see no possible benefit to ME - quite otherwise - in their casual acquisition and retention of my fingerprints.)

Suggesting that Google's business model is at fault because it rewards retention of data misses the point. Once you post something anywhere, even if that place is not on the internet and is not in electronic format, you lose effective control over it. You have no way of knowing where it is being stored, cached or archived and by whom or for what purposes. Google are a major storer, cacher and archiver but they aren't the only one.

At university a friend and I worked up a chess variant and posted it off to a magazine. This was in the 70s and predated the internet. Imagine my surprise a few years ago when it popped up in a Google search! Someone had put the magazine online somewhere and along came Google's Spider and snuck through the firewall and snatched that poor data away.

Chess is obviousl (?) harmless but imagine if I'd been politically inclined.

@mark baard, the way the Patriot Act is phrased, "suspected terrorists" are whoever they are pointing at when they say those words. All non-US citizens are suspect, because we are not loyal subjects of the US gubbermint. All US citizens are suspect, because it's well known that terrorist organisations are out to recruit locals to do the dirty work.

Benefit of the doubtDecember 10, 2009 8:37 PM

"If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

Schmidt's wording is unclear here. What did he mean by "doing it"?
Doing questionable stuff, or leaving traces of doing questionable stuff on the Internet (e.g. photos)? The latter would be reasonable advice that I might give to my friends and family, whereas the
former would indeed look like the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" argument.

Maybe he just expressed himself in an imprecise manner which made it easier to misrepresent what he said.

dhyskDecember 10, 2009 8:43 PM

Well, I could say a lot here but I think someone else actually said it all better.

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.
--William Pitt

Dan Saint-AndreDecember 10, 2009 8:44 PM

We have a tendency to use "fredom" and "liberty" interchangeably. They are not the same thing. Here are examples to illustrate the difference
** Absent some form of gag, I am "free" to say whatever words that I wish. However, I do not have "liberty" to shout fire in a crowded theater.
** Absent mechanical restraint, I am "free" to swing my arms any way that suits me. However, I do not have "liberty" for my swinging arms to make contact with another person (unless we agree to boxing or similar sports).
** Given employment in military classified environments I sign agreements with my employer. I become aware of military secrets as part of my job. I am free to tell anyone whatever I might know. However, as a moral and law abiding citizen, I do not have "liberty" to discuss these secrets.

All of the personal data on my computer is my property as are all of the items in my bedroom office.
** If someone enters my office without permission prosecution is straight forward starting with trespassing and escalating.
** If someone enters my computer without permission, we (1) seldom do anything, and (2) penalties are often trivial.
** If someone adds spray painted symbols to my living room wall, prosecution is again straight forward.
** If someone deposits scum-ware on my computer storage, we (1) seldom do anything, and (2) penalties are often trivial.

These have contributed to an environment where bad behavior has become sport. This environment must change.

What does your ISP contract say are responsibilities for protection of your property in their possession? Isn't it a crime to sell stolen property? What about receiving stolen property? Your personal data is your property isn't it? Which steps do you take to protect your other personal property?

I could go on, but you might get the idea,
~~~ 0;-Dan

sooth sayerDecember 10, 2009 10:19 PM

One of the rare occasions I agree with the post.

Eric Schmidt is not a thinker -- more like that evil guy in superman movies.

Rufus PolsonDecember 11, 2009 1:23 AM

On the library analogy--I'd just like to note that I work at an academic library, and in the old days our computer system would store the identity of everyone who had checked out any given book, going back for years. It came in handy sometimes in fine disputes and such.

Our new computer system stores the identity of whoever currently has it out plus the person who had it last, and that is all--data from further back is deliberately not stored, precisely for reasons of privacy and to avoid having data we would be hesitant to hand over to law enforcement or intelligence organizations (Who's been reading Marx or Malcolm X, et cetera).
So. Library people figured it out. Google could too, were it not for that Upton Sinclair higher up in the responses.

Clive RobinsonDecember 11, 2009 1:57 AM

@ Dan Saint-Andre,

** Absent mechanical restraint, I am "free" to swing my arms any way that suits me. However, I do not have "liberty" for my swinging arms to make contact with another person (unless we agree to boxing or similar sports)."

Not quite in the UK there are various offences one of which is "common assult" whereby it is an offence to behave in a threataning way. One aspect of it is the use of your arms, raising them above your shoulder within a reasonable distance of another person is an offense, even if non was intended. Thankfully most magistrates etc interpret the raising of arm with some caution (otherwise half our EU visitors and many others would be arrested for their equivalent of a hand shake ;)

The problem you raise with "freedom / liberty" is one of meanings which "get lost in translation". Another is "safety & security" many languages do not have seperate words for these two concepts which makes translation an issue.

You're main issue which I agree with is the legal war over what is and is not in "plain sight" with regards entities without direct physical representation (ideas / knowledge) that can be lumped under he heading of "information".

@ Darlene Pike,

"Individuals lack proper tools to protect their own privacy."

The issue realy is we do not have the tools at all and the legal process has difficulties with intangables.

The underlying issue is fundemental assumptions (axioms) that are effectivly invisable and pervade our perspective and thus thinking.

We invariably think of "tangable" physical objects not "intangable" information.

Information is difficult for many (read nearly all people) to get to grips with. We tend to think of it only where it has a representation in our physical world (storage and communications) such as a book (which is a container) not the information (which is what it contains).

When it comes to security we have the same issues.

The security of physical objects is based around their physical atributes and thus all our physical security models have unstated underlying "physical constraint" assumptions.

One of which is to do with "localisation" that is to steal a physical object requires a physical agent to perform the theft at the location of where the object is.

This does not apply to Information which can be stolen by other information.

Which takes a moment for most to get their head around.

The second is that in it's true non tangable form information effectivly costs nothing to duplicate therefor it's theft does not have a direct analog in the physical world.

In the physical world theft revolves around taking a physical object and thus denying the owner it's tangable benifit (ie it is physicaly lost to them).

Copying has it's own branch of law (IP / Copyright) which tries to give tangable atributes to intangable entities via another intangable "value". It has further difficulties because the owner of the entity still has the entity all they have "potentialy" lost is some of the intangable "value" atribtue. Which is possibly why the laws in this area are a "right royal mess".

The question then arises at what point does the owner of the intangable know that a "theft by copy" has occured and the answer is they don't untill some "value" loss is realised at their expense or brought to their notice.

The combined effects of "theft by copy" and non "localisation" are difficult to deal with as are the "rights pertaining to ownership" of a non tangable entity such as information.

There are other issues in that the tools to "affect control" on an intangable are likewise intangable.

So you get the interesting point that information can be protected by information as well as being stolen by it, and you cannot show which by examination unless you have other information which may be unknown to you and thus do not have.

That is when you create a piece of information all of it's defects come into existance with it thus exist, but you have to realise that information into knowledge for you to be able to make use of it.

I guess it's time to ask "how's the head ache?"

Before saying that "knowledge" is a product of "perspective" which is product of "experiance" which is a product of "interaction with an environment".

If the only environment you have had interaction in is tangable your "knowledge" may well be based on underlying assuptions of that environment and thus may or may not be transferadle to another environment directly or indirectly...

Are you reaching for the pills yet?

hwKeitelDecember 11, 2009 3:00 AM

I was thinking about (real life) stalking and doubleclick and surveillance.

Google has no interest to publish a sex tape to hurt your feelings (like the newspapers, but they do stuff like that).
but Goolge may has an interest do "share their/our knowledge", or to publish information about the next candidate for the presidency. Google has an interest to combine all the collected data.
it is a matter of trust, and i don't know why i should trust Google (to a certain degree). the fact is: i have almost no control, without control i have no trust.
the information collected by doubleclick are very interesting for intelligence services.
now you could say: in real life we have traffic supervision, security cameras, loyalty cards, and so on. This all exist and as long as i have no control over my data, it is the same problem.

i would not allow someone to follow me the whole day; recording where i go, who i talk with, maybe what i say. in real life this is called stalking or spying and only permitted to a limited number of people unter specific conditions.
this is not about someone knowing a bit. it's about someone knowing a lot, or someone able to combine data from several sources.

Hanzi MullerDecember 11, 2009 5:11 AM

Google executives do not do anything that is not serving corporate interests.
Selling personal information is the new fad, the new tulip bulbs. Until advertisers will realize that even if they figure out what I do, does not mean that they can push me to do an impulse purchase based on their targeted ads, they will continue sinking money in Google's pockets.
Google is just positioning itself to profit from this fad, and the public declaration of the Google CEO is only meant to protect the company from future lawsuits over privacy. Now nobody can claim that they have not been warned. And by playing nice to the powers that be, those pesky antitrust investigations may not be necessary.

Seth BreidbartDecember 11, 2009 8:39 AM

John Campbell, the meme that "respectability is inversely proportional to sexuality" comes from crooks who wanted to distract attention from their crimes by pointing to irrelevant attention-attracting facts about their accusers.

anonDecember 11, 2009 9:00 AM

@Seth Breidbart

it's not important what i do. what i do in my private life is my business. sexuality is not the only reason for privacy. and privacy is not about hiding illegal activities.
privacy gives you soul space, it gives you time to breath in this modern world. privacy is what you are.

TimDecember 11, 2009 9:40 AM

Paranoia, fear, uncertainty is that really what we've come to. Eric is right, if you don't want someone to know what you're doing then maybe you shouldn't be doing it. At least not where someone can find out and if your doing it on the internet someone can find out. The internet and it's corresponding services were designed that way and neither Google nor any other company or government can change that no matter how long and loud you shout at the moon.

If you don't like what Google or anyone else does with data collected on you then don't use the internet it's as simple as that. Arguing that Google is next evil empire shows both your ignorance of internet technology and your naivety of the reality of the situation. Google didn't create the situation they are simply taking advantage of it and they are not alone. To vilify Eric for at least acknowledging what they and others do is just stupid. If the data is available, someone is going to make use of it no matter what you say. Grow up, accept responsibility for your actions, if you don't use the internet Google and their counter parts can't collect any data on you. Of course you also miss out on all of the benefits that come from the internet as well. You and only you can choose, but once you do you have to live with the consequence of that choice.

Jon GreenDecember 11, 2009 10:33 AM

This is really simple. If you don't like Google's privacy policy, *don't use Google*. Schmidt was being honest about how his product works - nothing wrong with that. There are other search engines to choose from.

Daemon_ZOGGDecember 11, 2009 11:47 AM

Bruce,

An outstanding response. I don't think anyone could have said it better.

Thanks!
;)

TAJDecember 11, 2009 12:31 PM

Internet technology was never designed around the concept of privacy. It can not be dictated by any government because the technology is not bound by borders. Even individual companies can not guarantee it, no matter how powerful they may appear. That was the whole point of the internet to begin with.

Individual companies may choose through policy to support the concept of privacy but you would never be able to prove 100% that they've succeeded at implementing technically. It just can't be done given the current design of the internet and that is unlikely to change. If you use the internet at all eventually Google will collect some data on you and theres nothing anyone can do to stop it. At least Google is acknowledging their policy openly and honestly, you may not like it but you can't expect anything better.

Ray WatermanDecember 11, 2009 1:27 PM

Schmidt's argument "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." is one commonly used by authorities to justify ever increasing intrusions into the private lives of citizens. It's based on a false dichotomy, presently an either/or scenario.

Specifically:
If you have nothing to hide, you won't object to the intrusion. However if you do object it can only be because you must be doing something illegal/immoral.

This argument fails to provide a third and perfectly valid position. Namely that the individual is not engaged in any illegal activity, but still prefers to conduct their affairs in privacy.

JonDecember 11, 2009 1:44 PM

Excellent response to the revelation of Mr. Schmidt's mistaken view. I'd hoped he, as the leader of the beloved cult of 'do no evil,' had a realistic definition of 'evil.' Actual actions that combine to form our ideas of evil don't actually have horns and eat human hearts raw; they are lesser specters in the battlefield within us all. So, even the best intended notions can conjure up the essence. Thanks for trying to help him be aware. We 'cult followers' need someone in his position to be setting the *right* direction..... and not brewing cool-aid.

TAJDecember 11, 2009 1:56 PM

But Ray, you invite the intrusion by using the technology. If you don't want someone looking at where you go on the internet then the only viable option is to not use the internet. The arguments made here assume that privacy on the internet can be dictated by government law or by company policy but nobody controls or rules the internet, not Google, not Microsoft, not Yahoo, not the FBI, CIA, NSA or any other alphabet government organization. Schmidt knows this and is just letting everybody know Google's policy accordingly. They have also made it clear their policy is first do no evil but face the facts that is not a guarantee.

You may not like the policy, you may distrust them but if you use the internet then expect that if it's not Google it will be someone that will collect and use the data. Data is what makes the internet work. Without it the internet would be just another interesting but obscure graduate project.

lofaDecember 12, 2009 3:48 AM

Both Microsoft and Google are evil. Choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil. Neither deserve recognition, support or to be spat upon. Privacy is about freedom and choice, not necessarily "hiding things". And what is so bad about practicing privacy? I believe that people should maintain privacy to a certain degree. These corporations don't need to know everything about you. [Personal] "Information" is a hot commodity seller. Information = profits. Money is the "god" of planet earth. Money is the root of evil. As the old saying goes, a fool and his money soon part.

Felipe RiveraDecember 12, 2009 1:13 PM

Dear Bruce,

The well thought-out, quite rational, and eloquent responses. Though I agree with your statements, they don't invalidate what Eric Schmidt said.

I believe one of the problems that we have as internet users is we'd like to think that in some way "we own a piece of the internet" to call "our very own". Unfortunately, that is not the case and cannot be.

When we "make love or go to the bathroom, ... seek out private places for reflection or conversation, keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers," we are are indeed doing nothing wrong.

However, when we take those private experiences and deliberately post them in a "public forum" (as the internet is) where anyone and everyone has access to it, we are doing something we "shouldn't be doing it in the first place." (And that something is to rescind our right to privacy.)

The truth (as I paraphrase Eric Schmidt) is that the Internet is not and cannot be a private place. In fact it is Google's business to not let it be private. Rather, the internet is meant as a media for disseminating information to everyone. (It was built for that purpose from the very beginning.)

Indeed, "Privacy is a basic human need." However that need cannot be fulfilled in the "cloud." "Judgment Matters."

Keep up the good work!!!!

TAJDecember 12, 2009 2:24 PM

There is nothing at all wrong with practicing privacy if that is what you want. Being able to choose is always something we have, we may not like the choices available but nobody ever said that we had a RIGHT to choose the choices. That concept just doesn't seem to sink in to anyone here. You can not choose how the internet works. You may stomp your feet like a spoiled little child all you want but the fact remains that the choice you have is whether or not you will use the internet or not. That's it, end of discussion. If you choose to use it then you choose to accept the limitations on privacy which come from that choice. Like it or not the services internet companies provide do not make themselves for free. They must be paid for somehow. These companies are able to offer these services for FREE only because they have found another way to fund the development which currently is through advertising. Again, this choice is not yours to make it never was and it never will be. Your choice is limited only to whether or not you will use these services.

Now, what really astounds me about these arguments on privacy is the assumption that people make that Google, Microsoft or anyone else is looking at your data with the view of you as an individual. None of these companies are big enough or rich enough to spend the time or expense it would require to spy on you the individual. Even if they could do that, my question would then be what is the point? How could they possible as companies benefit from it? The only benefit they get is looking at the population as a whole. That is were the power is for them and it's only powerful to them because it informs them so effiecently what the market (i.e. human population) is look to buy.

Is it possible an individual could misuse this information? Obviously, yes. But there are already enough laws on the books to prosecute this behavior. However, there are very few instances that companies, looking at the individual really reaps any rewards and even fewer of those instances apply to average Joe or Jane citizen.

So, do companies benefit from this information? Of course they do, but only because we choose to let them benefit. There is no mind control here, no magic, no voodoo or zombie curses being performed. They are simply offering goods and services which better match what they have learned about us as a market. If privacy is about choosing for yourself then you are free to choose not to buy or use those services being offered. If You want to bring these so called evil empires down then hit them were it hurts them the most, in their pocket book. Now granted you as an individual is meaningless. It would require the market as a whole to make any real difference. As for me, I appreciate the benefits that come from the internet. My shopping is made 100x easier and the selections available make it possible to buy what I really want not just settling for what is available in my local area. Google docs is an example of services that I'm learning to appreciate. It provide me with enough functionality at a price point (i.e. free) that I can't argue with. It may not be perfect and it may be a little slower but with time I know that will change for the better. For now it's good enough and it has already saved me 100s of dollars from having to buy software that I would use only a few times in a year.

I could spend hours listing the benefits that I get from internet companies like Google. So far the evidence shows that choice has not been lost. Freedom has not been restricted. On the contrary I have more freedom and choice than I ever have. There are all sorts of the paranoid arguments that have been and I'm will be made about what I will lose because these companies have collected some data related to me. I have yet to see any real hard evidence backing these claims. I don't doubt that somewhere someone may deny me or someone else a job or credit etc... because of what they could potentially learn about me but the evidence I have seen so far still show me there are 100s, possibly 1000s of other companies willing to offer me those things in their place. So what really has been lost?

As for the part about money being the root of all evil, I disagree. IT IS NOT the root of all evil! Selfishness is, pure and simple and that is an INDIVIDUAL CHOICE which we all must accept personal responsibility for. IT CANNOT BE BLAMED on anyone or anything else. Money does not have a brain, hands or feet. It does not feed itself and has no emotion etc. In other words it has no free will. You do! Whether you accept responsibility for it or not.

Jason BDecember 12, 2009 4:59 PM

Thanks for this Bruce.
I can't believe so many people are still struggling to understand these fundamental principles...

Clive RobinsonDecember 12, 2009 6:22 PM

@ TAJ,

Hmm I'm not quite sure you understand the issues.

There is a principle in many countries of an "expectation of privacy".

That is you should be able to carry out your ordinary everyday behaviours within the bounds of your property or other place not specificaly ment for public display, without fear that your actions will be held up for judgment of others.

That is if you are driving your car along a publicaly accessable highway you are driving from point A to point B, not putting on a performance for the titilation of others. Likewise on public and private transport available to those who pay the fare.

There is the presumed right of proceding "without let or hinderance" provided you are not breaching the regulated norms of society (ie the laws).

In fact in Europe we actually have basic laws to defend such behaviour as "human rights" both with regards to "home life" and with "freedom of expression".

Some European countries actually have laws dictating privacy as a natural right that is protected.

Therefor you should realise that such a fundemental mind set to do with the tangable physical world, ordinary mortals would automaticaly transfer into the intangable information world.

However there is a dicotomy in society to do with the "deities of fame" and assumed "ownership of persona". That is there are "public" and "private" individuals based on being or not being "in the public eye".

Frequently there is no choice as to if an individual want's to be in the public eye or not (think Wii-fit Girl). That is it is not their personal actions that bring them into the public spot light, but those of others.

This is especialy true of victims, who have suffered some sort of traumatic event then have further stress added to their ordeal by the "rubber necking" public in persuite of "self gratification". By which others extract payment for the privalage without recompense to the individuals concerned. Such others have been given names such as paperazies etc.

Your argument is that on the Internet we are all victims by our own choice.

Like others you appear to have a mistaken belife. That is contary to what you state, the Internet was not designed to be "public access" or "private access" or any other type of access except research into reliable communications.

That is it is agnostic and it is what people make of it. Originaly there where no "comercial connections" nor where there "public connections" either. In fact originaly it was an "invitation only" party with a particular dress code.

There is currently a war between the general populous and those non elected individuals tasked with carrying out some sociatal functions.

One such skirmish is the desire of LEO organisations to have any and all information declaired "in public view" irespecive of where it is stored. Thus information stored on the hard disk of your computer inside your home should be regarded as being on "public view" irespective of what common sense would dictate (ie the entries in a closed journal in an unlocked draw or on a shelf is not regarded as being in public view so you would have similar expectations about your computer hard drive).

Further LEO's want the right to steal your resources so that they can excersise their "presumed right to view" from any place they see fit at your expense.

It is this mentality of contempt for individuals that is not just restricted to LEO's but also those who wish to profit by such "presumption of public view".

If I was to place a covert CCTV camera outside your house and point it at any window where the blinds where not drawn and then put the images up for sale you would reach for your nearest legal representative to make use of anti-stalking and other legislation to stop it.

Most people that put up personal web pages have little idea that googles agents are going to go through their "electronic home" and index every item and make it available for public titilation.

The same for social networks etc.

The question is has google breached your personal copyright. To which I think the answer is most definatly yes. They have used your work to produce a derived work for comercial gain.

This is no different than them making copyrighted books available on line. And not so coincidently the likes of journolistic works which Mr R Murdoch is currently starting to take action against (rightly or wrongly he regards the contents of the google search DB as being derived works for gain over and above any "fair use" argument).

As technologists we say "so what" but the legal representatives of the film and music industries see punitive damages.

Why should I as an individual have any different expectations to my "works" than the likes of Disney etc?

At the end of the day justice is supposed to be blind and thus equitable to all, not just the rich.

Peter NorvigDecember 12, 2009 7:50 PM

Bruce, Eric was responding to a question about criminal activity. I think it is good that he is honest about the reality: that your digital record (regardless of where it is stored) is subject to discovery in a legal procedure or through the patriot act. I do know that Eric in particular and Google in general agrees with you that privacy is an important right, and will fight to protect that right. What Eric is saying is that if you choose to make a video of yourself going to the bathroom, then under the current laws it is possible that the video will be subject to a legal request.

elegieDecember 13, 2009 12:26 AM

Some persons find their own privacy to be of importance, though they may or may not always care about the privacy of others. In 2003, a California financial privacy bill failed to pass. For the legislators who had not supported the bill, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights posted the first four digits of the legislators' Social Security numbers. Not surprisingly, there were legislators who were upset. There were also questions about the legality of the release, though the partial numbers had been released after the bill had been defeated.

For more details, please see the San Francisco Chronicle article "Extreme lobbying upsets Assembly" from Christian Berthelsen (June 19, 2003.)

wedding giftsDecember 14, 2009 2:30 AM

Does Eric Schmidt keep his e-mail private ? His bank account private ?

If the answer is yes, he is not doing what he says.

If the answer is no, his family may compare how much he gave as wedding gift for last few weddings ... what a poison pill.

AlanSDecember 14, 2009 10:10 AM

I think Schmidt should get the Joel Reidenberg treatment.

Reidenberg is a law professor at Fordham who teaches a class on privacy law. As an exercise he has his students compile a dossier on someone using publicly available information. The first year his students collected data on Reidenberg himself. The last time they did a dossier on Justice Scalia after Scalia said he didn't care what people could find out about him through the Internet. Scalia was annoyed.

You can read about this on Solove's blog:
http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2009/...
http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2009/...
http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2009/...

Given Bruce's observation that we got the VPPA because our legislators realized, post-Bork, that the press could get hold of their rental data as easily as Bork's without a privacy law, maybe this is the way to get decent privacy laws passed.


Pete AustinDecember 14, 2009 10:20 AM

The following is UK government advice, so at least one dept knows privacy is important.

* shred all personal information before throwing it away in your rubbish; this includes anything referring to bank accounts, National Insurance details, salary information, and old bank cards
* delete any suspicious emails from organisations requesting personal information from you (banks will never ask for personal details by email)
* be extra vigilant when giving out personal information - it's easy for criminals to fake email addresses, websites, headed paper and other methods of communication

http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/index/...

Eric LundquistDecember 14, 2009 10:23 AM

I'm not sure we can put this horse back in the barn. We as a society have handed over a vast amount of private data in return for, what?, links and search. Privacy policies regarding how to protect your data and make sure it is not further manipulated are very sparse.

Jean-Marc MercierDecember 15, 2009 2:32 AM

In this context, you may be interested by the initiative of the NPO (NGO?) Mnemosine ( http://www.mnemosine.org).

This NPO do not propose to rule the internet, but to create a space of digital rights inside, adapted to the long term management of human, personal data. It is easier, less liberticide, and not intrusive to take this path.

Te whole project relies over a Universal Declaration of Human Digital Rights ( http://www.mnemosine.org/drupal-6.12/content/... Technically, tis project consists in designing a cloud solution that proposing open, secured, interoperable standards. Structurally, it proposes to create a perenial organism to host and defend it.

We are looking for investors / partners to seed this project. Do not hesitate to contact us.

Rieks JoostenDecember 15, 2009 6:19 AM

Privacy cannot protect us. Privacy is a word we use to describe a property of a situation. It is not that in former East Germany, or life in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, has become unsafe because of a lack of privacy. It's what people belonging to the group that held power, turned out to be doing (abusing that power), that resulted in privacy of its citizens being violated.

Focusing on the term 'privacy' rather than on the notion of 'preventing people to abuse their power' makes us say things like 'information should not be collected', or 'data should not be linked (or mined)'. While this prevents abuse of the results, it also prevents good use. It is similar as saying that we should not have highways, air traffic or knives (in the U.S.: guns) simply because they can be abused.

Rather than stating that "Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power", I would like to turn it around: "As long as we're protected from abuses by those in power, we have privacy".

I think we need more discussions that focus on the systematic prevention of the misuse of power itself, rather than on trying to deprive (future) power-misusers of means that they might use, as if they weren't capable of finding other means to their ends. Also, I think it is interesting to think about preventing the misuse of power, not just by governments, but also by activists, multinationals, banks, in short: by anyone.

AlanSDecember 15, 2009 9:35 AM

@Rieks Joosten

I agree but when Bruce writes "Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power" I think he is referring to the legal framework etc. that makes privacy possible; not simply the collection or non-collection of information. The problem is that technologies that greatly increase the ability to aggregate, store and process information, are developing faster than legal framework of protections that prevent potential abuses of power.

In the US, at least, there appear to be relatively few laws that restrict the increasing potential for abuse. And post-9/11 laws have tended to sacrifice piracy on the alter of 'security'--a perfect storm. Those that have been used effectively are laws that were designed to curb privacy abuses associated with older technologies but which just happen to have been flexible enough to extend to web-based technologies. For example the VPPA was designed to prevent abuses associated with video tape rental records but has been used effectively against Facebook/Blockbuster and is currently being used in litigation related to YouTube viewing records.

It's worth listening to Bruce's talk on the Future of Privacy in a a more recent blog post:
http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/12/...

GMDecember 16, 2009 3:49 AM

Dear Bruce,
I totally agree with your comments and the approach that our privacy is a part of our freedom which should be prioritized by all of us.
Unfortunately no one forces us to use Google services -we just do it because it is easy and free (in terms of free beer not free speech) and as long as it will keep that way our privacy and freedom will vanish.

Rieks JoostenDecember 16, 2009 8:32 AM

@AlanS

I've listened to (large) parts of Bruce's talk. I keep hearing about how new technologies might be misused and all that scary stuff (until you've heard so much you simply cease to care any more).

I have missed the parts where he talks about what legislation would then be required, and ways to get it installed. Did he talk about that? I would love to hear ideas aimed at motivating legislators to pass bills against power abuse, particularly if they take into account that legislators themselves might be tempted to abuse the powers invested in them...

AlanSDecember 16, 2009 2:34 PM

@Rieks Joosten

Yes, the start of the talk is something of a catalog of technologies and how they undermine privacy. And until the mic is replaced the audio is terrible. The more interesting parts are towards the end. I'd skip to the part that starts around 32 minutes, starting with the Aldous Huxley quotation. Around 38mins he quotes Scott McNealy and asserts that the "death of privacy" is overrated. He then goes on to argue that technology changes the balance but we don't have to accept the new balance as inevitable, that we can reset the balance if we value privacy and have the will. he then then starts discussing the VPPA and other privacy laws--which he favors. I didn't listen, or at least haven't yet, to the whole question session as the recording of the people asking the questions isn't very good and some of them go on and on. However there is at least one interesting response towards the beginning where he discusses the work of Daniel Solove and how he assumes we got the VPPA.

He doesn't discuss it, but I think the death of privacy stuff smacks of technological determinism. It's as if technologies are seen to exist independently of human relationships and social relationships arise from them independently of our values and will. This type of thinking is very common. There is also a large sociological literature debunking it in favor of a more complex models of socio-technical change.

M. PALANIDecember 27, 2009 11:44 PM

Hi, I read your article published in Time of India, Bangalore edition. I like your creative ideas concerning safety and security in Flights. Body scan must be done before allowing passengers to board. We see people talking after the incident, don't we feel that prevention is better?
M. PALANI
India

Z. BeebFebruary 12, 2010 2:33 PM

Hasn't anyone dealt with ex-partner?

Do you want your ex to see everything about you now? Probably not (although some people do). But the point is that maybe some of our examples need to be more compelling and more personal for privacy to catch on.

Lars PJanuary 21, 2011 3:59 AM

A long time ago, Carlo Graziani wrote the following, which I can not leave ungainsaid:

Note, however, that this is utterly disingenuous, because it glosses over the fact that nobody forces Google to _keep_ that data. They could delete it immediately, or within a few days. If they did so, the "Law Enforcement Can Make Us Screw You" argument evaporates.


But as Schmidt mentions in the original interview, the vast majority of government requests are for emails. If Gmail followed the Graziano line and deleted all mails within 72 hours, it would cause a much bigger than this quote did.

Besides, even if such a deletion policy is powerless against orders of the type "send us all activity on this account until further notice".

JohnmanMarch 10, 2012 2:17 PM

@Ras

"Look - do you think Google wants to post photos of your fat ass making love or taking a dump?"

Me, specifically? Maybe not. Other people? Maybe so.

And I don't just care about myself, you know.

"What Eric was referring to is that criminals are actually using the internet to commit or help commit crimes."

In other words, you're using the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" argument.

You care more about stopping supposed criminals than you do about protecting people's privacy from corrupt governments.

"Why are we so afraid to give law enforcement all the tools at their disposal to lock up crooks?"

Because keeping such information for a long time enables a _corrupt_ government to harm _innocent_ citizens.

"Or would you rather pedophiles be able to circulate child porn freely and without fear of repercussions because they know the ACLU and other liberal pussies will defend their sordid acts just because it so happens that they got caught doing their thing using the internet?"

I would with 100% certainty rather have privacy than worry about criminals.

Sorry, but I'm not as in favor of collateral damage as you seem to be.

And did you seriously just turn this into a left-right politics game? Liberals vs conservatives? Left vs right? Why does anyone buy into that nonsense?

Did you seriously just use a "for the children" argument to justify invading everyone's privacy?

"How is this any different then those cameras they place at traffic signals"

Who says that I agree with cameras at traffic signals? Why are you assuming that I (or we) do?

I don't.

"Basically ANYONE on the road can be photographed but unless you break the traffic law this blanket surveillance will not affect you."

They might be able to be photographed, but it's quite different when there are government-mandated cameras at every corner.

A person is only able to watch some of your actions. Cameras all tied to the same entity gives that entity the ability to watch over nearly everyone in all public places (even when they don't see anyone nearby) and accurately record what they're doing. Cameras have near perfect memory, unlike a mere human.

"Get over yourselves people - your lives are not that interesting that so many legitimate businesses want to spy on you."

What is and is not a legitimate business? How do we know they're legitimate behind closed doors? Legal does not equal moral.

And that's the same argument the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" proponents use. Nice try.

Throw away your privacy if you want, but don't expect me to do the same.

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