If You Have Something That You Don’t Want Anyone To Know…

11 Dic/09

If You Have Something That You Don’t Want Anyone To Know, Maybe You Shouldn’t Be Doing It In The First Place. That is what Google’s CEO Erik Schmidt said in a live CNBC broadcast last week. The sentence itself does not make that much sense as there is a huge difference between doing something and publishing it online without proper protection so that search engines will index those information even if this was not intended by the publisher.

But doing can also refer to performing a search on a search engine, writing an email, viewing a video or accessing information about something in a news post. Google has the means to connect those dots to create a detailed user profile which is filled with additional details for every Google service that the user access and uses.

One reaction to the video caused a huge media response. Asa Dotzler, a community coordinator at Mozilla, posted his thoughts about the expression on his personal blog which did include a link to add Bing as a search engine in Mozilla Firefox. So, Asa, recommends Bing over Google because they “have a better privacy policy”. Many news sites turned this into “Mozilla Recommends Microsoft Bing instead of Google which apparently is not exactly true.

The hypocrisy in Schmidt’s statement was revealed by Gawker who mentioned that Mr. Schmidt “blacklisted CNET reporters from Google after the tech news company published an article with information about his salary, neighborhood, hobbies, and political donations — all obtained from Google searches”.

The excellent EFF article on the matter highlights the error in logic:

We have an unfortunate tendency to conflate personal and private with secret and we say, “Well, given that this information isn’t a secret, given that it’s known by other people, how can you say that it’s private?” And we can in fact say that there are a lot of things that are [not] in secret that are in private. Every one of us does something private and not secret when we go to the bathroom. Every one of us has parents who did at least one private thing that’s not a secret, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.

So this decision — this determination — over when and under what circumstances your personal information is divulged tracks very closely to how free and how much power you have in a society. When you look at really stratified societies, particularly the great totalitarian empires of the last century, the further up the ladder you go, the more raw power you wield, the more raw power you have over this disclosure of your personal information. And the further down the ladder you go, the less power you have.

Did you follow the story on the news? What’s your take?

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