Google is being targeted by lawsuits and governments around the world with potential privacy invasions, so perhaps it wasn't the best choice of word when Google CEO Eric Schmidt told the Mobile World Congress in a keynote address a few days ago: "We can literally know everything if we want to."
Schmidt was there to talk about the future of mobile, and he said everything you would expect him to --- nothing particularly revealing. But several minutes into his address, he talked about the pervasiveness of social networking information, microblogging, and self-publishing on the Internet. And he had this to say:
"This notion of publishing and microblogging and so forth, information that you think is generally interesting is an explosion that will drive networks futher into everything we do in every way. Think of it as an opportunity to instrument the world. These networks are now so pervasive that we can literally know everything if we want to. What people are doing, what people care about, information that's monitored, we can literally know it if we want to, and if people want us to know it."
(You can view the address in its entirety here, although you'll have to register in order to view it. His comments came about ten minutes into the clip.)
Schmidt was absolutely right in what he had to say. The amount of information available about people is mind-boggling, particularly when people use social networking sites to post information about themselves. Just consider the site Please Rob Me. It scans Twitter streams for people who say they are not at home, and then publishes that information on the site. Why does the site do it? To let people know just how dangerous it is to publicly post information about themselves that is best left private.
Google has the capability to scan not just Twitter streams, but information from all social networks, and combine that with your search history, and information about you on the Internet. So Schmidt was not guilty of overkill when he spoke to the Mobile World Conference.
He's clearly aware about the privacy issues this raises --- note how he said "we can literally know it if we want to, and if people want us to know it. (Emphasis is mine.) It's good to see that he added that final caveat. I don't think Google quite yet understands just how dangerous many people think its power to invade people's privacy is. But eventually, prodded by governments, I think they'll get it.
This story, "CEO Says Google Can 'Know Everything If We Want To'" was originally published by Computerworld.