Last week someone said this:
“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
Now of course it will be immediately obvious to most people that this is simply wrong and I refrain myself from giving more counterarguments than political activists in autocratic regimes and the type of privacy most sane people prefer for going to the toilet.
What makes this statement more than a mere nuisance but outright dangerous is that it was made by Eric Schmidt who is the CEO of Google, in an interview with CNBC on 3 December 2009. There has been an outcry already and I refer everyone to the brief and eloquent response by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The statement of Mr. Google does nothing to alleviate the fears about privacy intrusion by Google through its ever more pervasive technology and vast data retention*. I still don’t believe in any conspiracy plot by Google to take over the world – rather it is something much more dangerous: It is utter naivity and ignorance about the complexities of human society and a purely technocratic approach to life.
I believe there is only one way to help Eric Schmidt to realise the value of privacy – that is to take it away from him. Let us help Eric to come clear about what he has done and add Sunlight (as the best disinfectant)** to his life by making it public. For example, I want to know where Eric Schmidt lives. Exactly. What car he uses to get to work. When. On which route. What stuff he loves. What nightmares he has. Everything. Let’s make a crowd-sourcing effort and publish all of this on the web. Again and again. Until Mr. Schmidt starts to realize the value of privacy.
There is only one trouble with this: Eric Schmidt already knows the value of privacy. For himself at least. For when in 2005 CNet published this story with some details on the private Eric Schmidt (with data that was obtained by public Google searches only) he acted very quickly and banned Google interviews with CNet reporters for the duration of one year.
So let us call this what it is: Hypocrisy. And this is evil, Mr. Schmidt.
Maybe it is time for a CEO to step down from his position when he is severely violating his company’s code of conduct:
“Don’t be evil.” [...] But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally — following the law, acting honorably and treating each other with respect. [...] It’s built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct.
Who Must Follow Our Code?
We expect all of our employees and Board members to know and follow the Code. Failure to do so can result in disciplinary action, including termination of employment.
Shareholders of Google, you know what to do to prevent further damage for your company. But then I see this Reuters article from February this year:
And some say Google is inherently unreceptive to investor input. Its dual-class share structure gave three individuals — co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and Chief Executive Eric Schmidt — 67 percent of voting rights as of 2008.
Time to change this too!
* Need a proof? If you have an account with Google (e.g. because you have a Google Mail address), have a look at this – your complete search history (and probably also what you’ve clicked onto) since creation of the account. In my case that were 2.5 years worth of searches – at least they allow you to delete it which is definitely a plus.
** On the issue of the sometimes questionable value of transparency see this very recommendable piece by Lawrence Lessig.
Since October 2006 I am both a DPhil student as well as a research assistant at the Oxford Internet Institute and here I share with the accidental reader my musings on different aspects of the Internet and society. Feel free to comment or simply ignore :-)
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