Thursday, December 10, 2009

Google CEO: Privacy is for criminals

Eric Schmidt (CEO of Google) said the following in an interview spotted on Gawker.com:
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.
I like and use Google products, but they continue to worry me. This attitude is the mantra of tyrants. Bruce Schneier (a computer security expert--arguably THE computer security expert) rebutted this back in 2006:
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.

A future in which privacy would face constant assault was so alien to the framers of the Constitution that it never occurred to them to call out privacy as an explicit right. Privacy was inherent to the nobility of their being and their cause. Of course being watched in your own home was unreasonable. Watching at all was an act so unseemly as to be inconceivable among gentlemen in their day. You watched convicted criminals, not free citizens. You ruled your own home. It's intrinsic to the concept of liberty.

A few years ago I worked for a boss who I could only describe as unstable. At one point he decided we all had to rotate our desks so our computer screens faced our office door so our screens could be observed from the doorway by the boss and his minions.

He couldn't understand why we objected. You're not doing anything wrong are you? Well no, but I do check my personal mail at work or maybe go to my banks website on occasion, etc. We all do some personal things at work. The result of that decision was a massive collapse of morale. Employees felt that the first priority of management was to watch everything they did rather than (say) get product out the door. It pegged my fight-or-flight reflex whenever someone would enter my office, etc.

And that was just at work. Imagine how you'd feel if a company that indexes your email, your blogs, your browsing habits, etc. felt that way.

Oh wait, Google owns gmail, blogspot, youtube, ...

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