The Tech Curmudgeon – Google’s CEO Schmidt clueless

Google CEO Eric Schmidt (center) and other Google VIPs wearing Google Glass (image credit: KPCB)

So Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt thinks that government regulation is required to protect privacy from a rising tide of civilian drones. The Tech Curmudgeon agrees, at least in principle, because civilian drones and things like passenger aircraft should be kept well separated.

Yet this is the man apparently doesn’t see a problem with Google Glass, a system that turns every user into a mobile audio and video surveillance system, with all that data conveniently stored in Google’s server farms.

If you’re a Google investor, dump your shares now. With a CEO who’s too stupid – or who thinks that everyone else is too stupid – to understand how these two claims are hypocritical, Google’s future looks bleak.

5 replies »

  1. I saw this story and nearly spewed soda all over the wall. It takes lots of qualities to be a successful business leader, but I guess self-awareness isn’t one of them.

  2. Your post managed to encapsulate ignorance of three fields — technology, the law and the stock market — into one mercifully brief rant.

    The two situations should be handled very differently. Google Goggles tapes only what a person sees; they must be a participant in whatever situation they capture. That’s legal in most states as far as I can tell. But a drone is a tool that makes it possible to surveil others without their consent or knowledge.

    Example: if I am sunbathing nude in my backyard and I capture my muscular, bronzed flesh in all its glory using Google Goggles, then it is on me if that video ends up on the internet. On the other hand, it’s a clear invasion of privacy for my neighbor to fly a drone over my house and videotape me and then sell copies of that from their web site.

    I do think there will be a lot of problems with ubiquitous video from Google Goggles but a moment’s thought would have suggested that it’s a very different thing than third party drone based invasion of privacy.

    The fact that images from Google Goggles are stored on Google’s servers is irrelevant. If you understood how encryption in hosted server environments such as Google’s or Amazon’s works, you’d understand that they can easily set things up so that everything is encrypted in such a way that the service provider can’t read the data — only people logging in with the correct password can do so.

    Incidentally, as a professional money manager, I thank you if you’re able to convince anyone to sell their Google shares on the basis of privacy risks of Google Goggles. It leaves that much more upside for me — if potential risks of Google Goggles does weigh on the stock that will be years in the future. I assure you that nobody on the Street is thinking of any of that today. There are far more important factors that will influence the price of Google stock over the next couple years.

    • John, if you managed the Tech Curmudgeon’s money, he’d pull every cent out of your paws immediately upon reading this comment. You have even less of a clue than Schmidt does, and your comment lacks even the moment’s thought you say should be needed to understand the differences between Glass and drone cameras. To illustrate exactly why, the Tech Curmudgeon is going to turn your own example against you.

      The Tech Curmudgeon agrees that flying a drone over your back fence to film you nude sunbathing is an invasion of your privacy. In fact, this would be an invasion of privacy whether or not your neighbor sells video from his (or her) website. But it’s also an invasion of privacy if your neighbor merely looks over your back fence with his or her Mark One eyeball – it’s called voyeurism, and it’s illegal.

      Now put a set of Google Glasses – which have a camera and microphone that stream content directly to Google’s servers – on your neighbor when he pokes his head over the back fence. You’ve just been recorded in a place where you could reasonably be expected to have an expectation of privacy, so that’s just as much voyeurism as the drone camera or the Mark One eyeball are.

      The fact that Google plans on encrypting the data doesn’t matter – your neighbor could encrypt the drone camera video too. And what’s to prevent your neighbor from selling the video from the Google Glasses just as easily as he could sell the drone camera video?

      As the Tech Curmudgeon wrote above, Google Glass turns every single person wearing it into a mobile surveillance platform. The only practical difference is that a civilian drone uses electric motors to move around while Google Glass uses human muscles.

      • Everyone with a smartphone, hundreds of millions of them, is already a mobile surveillance platform with capabilities virtually equal to what’s coming in Google Goggles, right down to storing data on Google’s servers. Everyone with a GoPro camera on a helmet mount is in the same position. Google Goggles is a slightly more efficient package than we have currently with camera-enabled phones. So Goggle Goggles is a very small matter of degree rather than something dramatically different.

        With hundreds of millions of Android smartphones sold, I’m not aware that Google has been successfully sued (or even unsuccessfully sued) by someone claiming that Android was the principally culpable party leading to a violation of their privacy. And given that the iPhone was launched almost six years ago kicking off the smartphone market, surely someone bent out of shape by spy pix taken by their neighbors would have sued by now.

        The only thing that will affect Google’s stock price vis a vis Goggles is if there are sufficient numbers of lawsuits that they might lose targeting them for privacy violations. Given the lack of precedent from smart phones (and I’m sure if I went back and looked privacy advocates were saying the same exact things six years ago), it’s unlikely enough that the risk is appropriate.

        The other issue with drones is that they can enable wholesale surveillance, which Goggles can’t. In other words, my hypothetical neighbor popping his head over the fence to take pictures of my Adonis-like form can only do this in a relatively limited manner since he only has a couple of neighbors. However, a drone operator can cover a lot of ground in a short time, and essentially troll for blackmail opportunities that didn’t exist before (i.e., discovering that the blonde enthusiastically applying suntan lotion to my rippling biceps is neither my wife nor my mistress). And in an hour they can hit a lot of back yards. My neighbor can’t. Oh, and if I caught my neighbor, I could settle the score with him in a variety of ways ranging from polite to unpleasant; it’s very hard to catch a drone operator, since they could be miles away.

        Incidentally, if I actually listened to you, panicked and sold Google on the basis of your fears today at $780 and in the next three years the stock went to $1000 based on earnings growth, you’d be the first one to stand in line and demand my head for incompetence. You can’t have it both ways.

        • The guys point remains a good one. Schmidt is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He’s either incredibly stupid or naive. I wouldn’t go dumping shares, but the hypocrisy doesn’t endear me to him either.