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October 4, 2010 3:06 PM   Subscribe

"With your permission you give us more information about you, about your friends, and we can improve the quality of our searches," [Google CEO Eric Schmidt] said. "We don't need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about... We can look at bad behavior and modify it." The Atlantic's editor James Bennet discusses with Schmidt how lobbyists write America's laws, how America's research universities are the best in the world, how the Chinese are going all-out in investing in their infrastructure, how the US should have allowed automakers to fail, and ultimately Google's evolving role in an technologically-augmented society in this broad, interesting and scary interview (~25 min Flash video) [via]
posted by Blazecock Pileon (55 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Flash video?

Is it in Schmidt's contract that all of his interviews be iPhone/iPad inaccessible?
posted by defenestration at 3:08 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


s/an/a
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:08 PM on October 4, 2010


Also, Eric Schmidt recently on Charlie Rose (25min).
posted by hippybear at 3:09 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just had a chance to see Eric Schmidt speak at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference (I asked him about Google's definition of "open"). Scary Google may be, and somewhat creepy Schmidt's remarks may appear from time to time, but after evaluating him in person I genuinely feel that he is one of these people who knows exactly what's going on, and exactly what his role is in it. We'd be foolish to write him off as just another futurist or self-anointed prophet. I'm looking forward to this interview.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 3:10 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


>"Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it," he said. Google implants, he added, probably crosses that line.

"Probably"???
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:12 PM on October 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Meanwhile I can watch my Kindle reporting every page turn in real time to Amazon along with my latitude and longitude.

We need something like Germany's privacy laws badly. I wish ambitious attorneys general in this country would go after stuff like this instead of sex workers on Craigslist.
posted by enn at 3:13 PM on October 4, 2010 [15 favorites]


The Atlantic's summary leaves out Schmidt matter-of-factly talking about Google modifying very vaguely-defined "bad behavior" as its middleman role in a lot of the Internet's current functionality. It's quite chilling. The video is worth watching, if only the last roughly ten minutes of it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:16 PM on October 4, 2010


Meanwhile I can watch my Kindle reporting every page turn in real time to Amazon along with my latitude and longitude.

Hey look, at least you won't have to chew your own arm off if you ever get lost in the woods and get pined down by a boulder and all you have is a pencil and a protein bar.

Some people, are just never happy.
posted by Skygazer at 3:18 PM on October 4, 2010


Google is teaming up with the National Security Agency to investigate the recent hack attack against its network in a bid to prevent another assault... The NSA has been embroiled since 2005 in allegations that the agency violated federal laws in conducting illegal surveillance of Americans’ phone and internet communications.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:23 PM on October 4, 2010


They know when you are sleeping, they know when you're awake, they know when you've been bad or good...
posted by John Cohen at 3:37 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Eric Schmidt author of Lex has become Luther. And not the Luther who his greivences on the doors of the cathedral, the one who launches a death ray into low earth orbit and threatens us all with death. I'm just an awkward farmboy from some tiny little town in the Midwest and mild mannered Mefi Poster. So don't expect me to do anything about it.
posted by humanfont at 3:37 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


This tool is making the rounds today, alleging that Google has collected the MAC addresses of millions of wireless routers and mapped them to physical coordinates. The Street View camera cars apparently auto-detected all open networks and probed for vulnerabilities as they drove. If they sniffed your network, they paired it with your street address. I had no idea those cars were doing more than snapping photos... a shiver just ran up my spine.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:38 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wasn't that what Skyhook was doing already?
posted by gyc at 3:39 PM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Schmidt: "As far as I know, we do not have a medical laboratory working on implants..."

... "We are, however, working to free the Old Ones from their ageless sleep. Cthulhu fhtagn. Does that creep you out? Does that cross the line?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:48 PM on October 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


I wasn't familiar with Skyhook but that sounds like exactly what they were doing. There's competition in the commercial wardriving market.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:49 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


They weren't scanning for vulnerabilities. Wireless network cards broadcast their Mac addresses. This is as designed.
posted by empath at 3:57 PM on October 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


"Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it," he said. Google implants, he added, probably crosses that line.
And a pickup artists' policy is to "Get right up to the rape line, but not cross it". John Yoo's job was to "Get right up to the torture line, but not cross it!!"

I guess this means Google's policy is no longer "Don't be evil" But "Get right up to the evil line and not cross it"

I shouldn't have to explain how fucking stupid that is right? I mean you all understand it. The only reason you could possibly have for getting "Right up to the line" is to make as much money as possible.

The other thing, which I don't think they realize is that as you're exposed to things more and more your feelings about them change. The so-called uncanny valley is a good example. You might see a robot or animation and get kind of creeped out by it, but seeing lots and lots of CG reduces how disquieting they are. Things get normalized over time. If you get "right up to the creepy line" after a while those things will seem normal, and thus the "creepy line" will seem farther off. But the money will look just as green.

(Just look at the debate about torture in this country, as another example)
posted by delmoi at 4:23 PM on October 4, 2010 [18 favorites]


This tool is making the rounds today, alleging that Google has collected the MAC addresses of millions of wireless routers and mapped them to physical coordinates.
That's not an accusation. They do that to make mapping work on cellphones without using GPS (which sucks batteries) It works well and it's been available for years. That tool exploits a router security glitch to get your MAC address for people using a specific ISP (Verizon FIOS)

Under ordinary circumstances, you can not get someone's MAC address just by looking at their internet packets.
posted by delmoi at 4:26 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Eric Schmidt author of Lex has become Luther. And not the Luther who his greivences on the doors of the cathedral, the one who launches a death ray into low earth orbit and threatens us all with death.

So then, Lex Luthor?
posted by eyeballkid at 4:27 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh but there was a google wifi problem. Apparently Google was actually saving more data then just MAC addresses, and this got stored in a database somewhere. This could have included, for example, passwords sent in plain text or emails. But this was a mistake and turned up via some kind of government audit.
posted by delmoi at 4:28 PM on October 4, 2010


The only reason you could possibly have for getting "Right up to the line" is to make as much money as possible.

Google are a corporation. That's what they do. I don't entirely follow your outrage here.
posted by Throw away your common sense and get an afro! at 4:37 PM on October 4, 2010


Google stopped directly doing WiFi mapping months ago. Apparently they are now using Android phones to collect the data for them. (Apple seems to be doing the same thing with iPhones.)
posted by hippybear at 4:45 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Google are a corporation. That's what they do. I don't entirely follow your outrage here.
Because obviously if you try to get "right up to the line" then obviously you are going to end up crossing it accidentally. The reason people are upset is that Google obviously has a lot of power and the whole "don't be evil" thing seems to be going away.
posted by delmoi at 4:46 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]




And a pickup artists' policy is to "Get right up to the rape line, but not cross it". John Yoo's job was to "Get right up to the torture line, but not cross it!!"

I actually don't have a huge problem with Schmidt's statement, and equating this with rape and torture is waaay off base. Look, sometimes you really do have to get users' personal information (with their permission) in order to substantially improve peoples' lives.

GPS on my iPhone greatly improved my life. It knows exactly where I am, no matter where I am. Yelp and Foursquare can give me great recommendations with a tap of a button when I'm in the middle of nowhere Iowa. This is what Schmidt means by getting right up to the creepy line, and I'm glad companies are not being overly cautious in that regard. I just wish they were more explicit about it in their privacy policies, and erred more on the side of "opt in" than "opt out."
posted by naju at 4:50 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not sure that rape and torture are good parallels here. But perhaps delmoi feels more strongly about this than I do. (That said, I never log into my Google account -- I don't feel the need to directly participate in their grand experiment.)
posted by hippybear at 4:53 PM on October 4, 2010


Then why is the quality of my searches not improving? In fact lately it seems to be doing the opposite.
posted by ODiV at 5:03 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Then why is the quality of my searches not improving? In fact lately it seems to be doing the opposite."

We can more or less know what you're thinking about... We can look at bad behavior and modify it.

ODiV, have you been being naughty?
posted by spindle at 5:28 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


The reason people are upset is that Google obviously has a lot of power and the whole "don't be evil" thing seems to be going away.

Eric Schmidt clearly knows this and I appreciate that he didn't mince words and candidly stated Google's strategy, even if it meant causing much discomfort amongst his audience. I fully agree with your feelings in this matter, although I suppose I was put off by your tone and link to rape/torture.
posted by Throw away your common sense and get an afro! at 5:31 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


GPS on my iPhone greatly improved my life. It knows exactly where I am, no matter where I am. Yelp and Foursquare can give me great recommendations with a tap of a button when I'm in the middle of nowhere Iowa.

There is no reason that Apple (or Yelp or Foursquare) need to know, let alone store, that you are asking for recommendations for your current location, or who it is who is doing the asking. They could provide equally good recommendations in response to the question "what is cool in nowhere, Iowa?" as to "please tell me, naju, what is cool near my current location, which is nowhere, Iowa." Just because your phone needs to know where you are at any given time doesn't mean it needs to provide that information to Apple. That's a completely arbitrary and self-serving decision that Apple has made.
posted by enn at 5:33 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


So then, Lex Luthor?

You parsed it.
posted by humanfont at 5:41 PM on October 4, 2010


And a pickup artists' policy is to "Get right up to the rape line, but not cross it". John Yoo's job was to "Get right up to the torture line, but not cross it!!"

I guess this means Google's policy is no longer "Don't be evil" But "Get right up to the evil line and not cross it"


You should start one of those single-issue blogs that wont be so popular for long. I'm thinking you should get right up to the played-out line, but don't cross it.

I can't think of any examples. I get right up to the clever line, but don't cross it.
posted by fuq at 5:49 PM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


But I want my google implant. Then a few years later I'll become one with google, I'll BE google. Evolution folks, don't fight it.
posted by sammyo at 5:50 PM on October 4, 2010


The line between "do no evil" and "super villain" is a perilously thin.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:56 PM on October 4, 2010


>"Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it," he said. Google implants, he added, probably crosses that line.

"Probably"???

This is a mis-quote in the article. He actually said:
I would argue that implanting things in your brain is beyond the creepy line.
I'm not a fan of defending Google, but I don't believe that they have strayed that far from their original mandate. They've stated numerous times (and in this interview as well) that they are a bottom-up organization.

This means that a large percentage of some of the smartest people in the world have the flexibility to determine a lot of their own projects and initiatives. Often, with Google dollars but this does not mean the organization is aware of, or endorsing it. I bet if you looked into the project waste basket, a far share have probably been scrapped for moving past "the creepy line".

Under no circumstances does this mean they are absolved of that responsibility. With great power comes great responsibility. However, heavy-handedness in policing could create an extremely negative environment within the organization that is, beyond question, providing services of enormous value to a significant number of people.

At almost no cost. And, except in some cases, entirely with your permission.
posted by purephase at 6:05 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Admittedly though. You have to admire an organization where a guy like Eric Schmidt is the "wild card".
posted by purephase at 6:13 PM on October 4, 2010


"We can look at bad behavior and modify it." This sort of thing is why I don't use GMail, or Android. The immense amount of data that Google is collecting is a hazard just by existing, and the temptation to put it to use for 'modifying bad behavior' is likely to become irresistible either to Google or governments.
posted by bitmage at 6:14 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I think of evil corporations, Google doesn't even cross my mind.

These guys cross my mind.
posted by notion at 6:24 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Google is teaming up with the National Security Agency

Isn't that a bit of guilt by association? They are investigating foreign intelligence breaches of an American company, something I would think the NSA would have knowledge of. What action would you like them to take?
posted by zabuni at 6:47 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


How much are you willing to compromise for a bit of convenience? Google provides dick-all that hasn't been provided before, they just lay it out on the buffet table, put a plate in your hand, and say: "take, but we're counting".

How much are you willing to compromise? If anyone is going to test that limit, it's going to be Google. Just be wary.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 7:03 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's an interesting interview. Schmidt seems to think that given enough data, and the right hands behind it, you can devine the absolute truth of a situation. The thing is that there's never been "enough data" before, and there's certainly never been the "right hands". What if they can make a simulacrum of reality by collecting enough data? What if they can program a totally impartial computer? The start of the interview talks about using datamining to influence public policy - to apply the structures of business and science (use facts to determine best course and then act on it) to public policy. Schmidt calls himself a capitalist, after all, and he seems like a true believer.

My problem with all of this is the language of absolutes. Note Google's moto: "Don't be evil"... what if you're not a moral absolutist? What if you don't believe in evil, but rather believe in atrocity that's been reasoned so much that it's been justified, and acted out by people who think what they're doing is correct. Can Google promise me that it won't do that? A bit harder to fit that into a punchline.

I've said it before in Google threads, but they're the spirit and I'm Faust. They give me power and I give them a digital representation of myself. I guess time will tell who gets the better end of that bargain.
posted by codacorolla at 7:18 PM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Is there a transcript of the interview? I'm allergic to watching videos.
posted by lukemeister at 7:28 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


The "wrong hands"? Would you mind telling me who are the "right hands" my logical friend? Are you by any chance in favor of these experiments?

Sorry, had to follow up with another Star Trek ][ post.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:27 PM on October 4, 2010


I actually don't have a huge problem with Schmidt's statement, and equating this with rape and torture is waaay off base. Look, sometimes you really do have to get users' personal information (with their permission) in order to substantially improve peoples' lives.
It's like rape and torture in the sense that they are all things it's a metaphor. Someone who says "We get right up to the line with X, but don't cross it" is someone who pretty much wants to cross it, or obviously, coming close to crossing it. And with most "bad" things we recognizes as problematic. The rape and torture examples were the only ones I could think of. "Being creepy" is clearly a bad thing.
GPS on my iPhone greatly improved my life. It knows exactly where I am, no matter where I am.
There are lots of GPS devices that don't send your location back home, and they work fine. A-GPS (assisted GPS) saves a little space since your phone doesn't need to store maps, in exchange for tons of network bandwidth - and not working without a signal. Now, on a small phone with limited memory, it probably is a good tradeoff. You don't want to waste gigabytes of space on detailed maps (which are never going to have things like satellite feeds)

But the reality is with a regular GPS (or even a regular GPS app on your phone) you know exactly where you are but no one else needs to.

In fact, on Android (and I would imagine on the iPhone as well) the GPS is only enabled when the application your using needs it - since it's such a drain on the battery. And only sends back your position if you're using a program that specifically sends it back for some reason.

As far as recommendations go, that can be pretty convenient. But it's on a per application basis. Basically no difference between that and doing a google search for "Resturant recommendations around [wherever]"

The problem is more the kind of preemptive monitoring in order to "get to know you" and "make recommendations" or whatever. Simply asking for good restaurants around where you are is totally different then getting all kinds of information about you and your friends.
posted by delmoi at 9:12 PM on October 4, 2010


That article about wi-fi location is pretty interesting, because my Android phone with GPS is incredibly sloppy at locating me. I look at the saved tracks, and apparently there's a shortcut through several of the buildings in my neighborhood, and my parking place is up a short alley down the street from my apartment. But when I wardrive, there are literally hundreds of wi-fi routers on the three-block walk down to the cafe. I can see a dozen right now.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:47 AM on October 5, 2010


"Don't use google for anything you wouldn't want on a billboard next to your photo."

What worries me is not that privacy is dead (it is, get over it) but that there are no real mores or guidelines in place to regulate who has access or control over our no-longer-private data.

Just like foreign relations we must decide based on capability not intent.

Google right now provides several excellent services for 'free'. They're quite explicit about what data they're collecting, what they use it for, how long they store it, and how you can opt out. Today.

Tomorrow maybe Sun Google gets bought by Oracle Facebook Satan and their policies change. They're no longer as benevolent yet they have just as much power.
posted by Skorgu at 5:55 AM on October 5, 2010


How hard would it be for the government to overtly decapitate the largest tech companies in the country and assume control? Presumably, the CIA has conducted extensive surveillance and has intelligence about the corporate leadership structures of these top companies (Google, Oracle etc).

What we are dealing with is a ratcheting pressure that never yields: technology. If the political winds change directions, this could be very painful as the government assumes control of the "ratchet". And inevitably the politics will shift. The force that is creating this change in human society (growth of technology etc) is equivalent to a glacier, ruthlessly cutting furrows into the landscape.
posted by kuatto at 8:57 AM on October 5, 2010


Is there a transcript of the interview?

I don't know about a transcript of the FPP interview, but if you go to the Charlie Rose interview page and scroll down to the comments, at the top of that section there is a tab which says "transcript" where you can read that interview. He covers much of the same material.
posted by hippybear at 9:02 AM on October 5, 2010


We can more or less know what you're thinking about... We can look at bad behavior and modify it."

On the bright side, there's no need for me to write the expletives I'm thinking of. More seriously though, I wonder why the heads of large companies are not content with having a net worth of billions, but want to push on their customers freedom from porn or modify bad behaviour. Not everyone cares about the iBible, the gMorality or the non-commercial ideas of CEOs.
posted by ersatz at 10:09 AM on October 5, 2010


"We are, however, working to free the Old Ones from their ageless sleep. Cthulhu fhtagn. Does that creep you out? Does that cross the line?"

Nope, right on schedule.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:42 AM on October 5, 2010


Someone who says "We get right up to the line with X, but don't cross it" is someone who pretty much wants to cross it, or obviously, coming close to crossing it.

I think Schmidt probably intends something more like, "I'd like to be as helpful as possible without crossing the line and being annoying." Assuming my help is really useful to you, you'd probably rather I not just sit back and offer you hardly any help at all out of fear of getting to close to crossing the "annoying" line.
posted by straight at 11:25 AM on October 5, 2010


A-GPS (assisted GPS) saves a little space since your phone doesn't need to store maps

Your description of Assisted GPS is totally off-base. A-GPS is about making GPS work on shitty chipsets in dense urban areas. Nothing to do with maps.
posted by ryanrs at 1:53 PM on October 5, 2010


Tomorrow maybe Google gets bought by Satan and their policies change.

Only with the consent of the Schmidt, Brin, and Page. Those of you who followed the IPO will remember that publicly traded Class A shares have 1/10th the voting rights of the Class B shares owned by Google's founders and other key executives.

From Google's 2009 10-K:
Our Class B common stock has 10 votes per share and our Class A common stock has one vote per share. As of December 31, 2009, our founders, executive officers, and directors (and their affiliates) together owned shares of Class A common stock, Class B common stock, and other equity interests representing approximately 70% of the voting power of our outstanding capital stock. In particular, as of December 31, 2009, our two founders and our CEO, Larry, Sergey, and Eric, owned approximately 90% of our outstanding Class B common stock, representing approximately 68% of the voting power of our outstanding capital stock. Larry, Sergey, and Eric therefore have significant influence over management and affairs and over all matters requiring stockholder approval, including the election of directors and significant corporate transactions, such as a merger or other sale of our company or its assets, for the foreseeable future. This concentrated control limits our stockholders’ ability to influence corporate matters and, as a result, we may take actions that our stockholders do not view as beneficial.
(emphasis mine)
posted by ryanrs at 2:16 PM on October 5, 2010


Yes, Google knows all about you. Not everybody likes that. They don't do themselves any favours with mistakes like this: Google allegedly harvests people's data illegally. (Mistakenly? I sincerely hope so!)
posted by benacheson at 7:19 AM on October 27, 2010


Also see: http://www.metafilter.com/86402/Google-answers-data-transparency-concerns-with-Dashboard
posted by benacheson at 7:25 AM on October 27, 2010


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