Consumer Watchdog thinks Google's Eric Schmidt is a data perv

A consumer rights group has created a cartoon showing Google CEO Schmidt as an child-baiting ice cream truck driver and put it on a billboard in Times Square. Who's being evil here?

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Like this, for example, from a recent Wall Street Journal profile:

"We're trying to figure out what the future of search is," Mr. Schmidt acknowledges. "I mean that in a positive way. We're still happy to be in search, believe me. But one idea is that more and more searches are done on your behalf without you needing to type."

"I actually think most people don't want Google to answer their questions," he elaborates. "They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next."

I believe when Schmidt says these kinds of things he's performing a public service. I think he sees the good in information sharing (both for consumers and for Google) as well as the potential dangers, and he's trying to wake people up to that reality. He's just doing it in a ham-fisted way. The notion of having Google tell you what to do because it knows better is bound to get under anyone's skin.

I think Google's primary problem is not evilness, it's cluelessness. It's an engineering-driven company that thinks it's helping people by exposing their information, or that it's cool to be able to slurp up data as you drive by, so why not? I think the Googlers were genuinely surprised by the reaction to Buzz and authentically appalled when they confirmed their own Wi-Fi spying. And I think they are slowly wrapping their enormous Googley brains around the concept that just because they can collect all that data doesn't make it theirs to do with it as they wish. (One can hope, anyway.)

But Consumer Watchdog (formerly The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights) has an animus toward Google that feels almost personal in nature. At least once a week I get an email blast from them attacking Google for some crime against humanity that's long on rhetoric and short on specifics.

I suspect that Times Square billboard succeeded beyond Consumer Watch's wildest dreams as a means of getting attention. But in terms of establishing credibility -- or focusing attention on what needs to change in order to ensure consumers' right to personal privacy -- it fails miserably.

So what do you think: Is Google evil, clueless, or some combination of both? Cast your vote below or email me:

This article, "Consumer Watchdog thinks Google's Eric Schmidt is a data perv," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringeley's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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