Google's Privacy Gaffe

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 11, 2009

Google has enormous reach already, and is reaching further into people's online experience. It's little wonder, then, that people would like to be reassured that Google plans to respect their privacy. Google CEO Eric Schmidt's recent comments on privacy are doing the opposite.

On a CNBC special, Schmidt says "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." He goes on to advise that -- as users should know -- search engines retain information that users should be wary of. Not surprisingly, the response has not gone over well with the open source community that tends to value privacy very highly.

That includes Mozilla's Asa Dotzler who pointed Firefox users at instructions to switch to Microsoft's Bing search engine, saying "Yes, Bing does have a better privacy policy than Google."

It's been said before, but bears repeating: A desire for privacy has little or nothing to do with things one should or shouldn't be doing. To see Google's CEO, who happens to control a company in possession of rather a lot of personal and aggregate data covering a range of activities, espouse this attitude is unsettling to say the least.

Google wants people to choose its products from the operating system on netbooks and mobile devices, to online office suites and email, to search results, and even DNS results. The company should be promising to protect user's privacy at all costs, not directing its users to avoid doing things they wish to keep private.

Whether this will have any significant impact on Bing adoption is unclear, but Schmidt may have done what Microsoft could not: Convince open source proponents to switch to Bing from Google. Maybe it's time for Mozilla to enter the search business itself.

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a longtime FOSS advocate, and currently works for Novell as the community manager for openSUSE. Prior to joining Novell, Brockmeier worked as a technology journalist covering the open source beat for a number of publications, including Linux Magazine, Linux Weekly News,,, IBM developerWorks, and many others.