Google CEO Eric Schmidt will be leaving the CEO’s office and founder Larry Page will be stepping in. The question is whether this is a signal from the Internet Goliath that Schmidt’s missteps and misstatements about online privacy are no longer company policy.
It’s not likely Google will embrace the “Do Not Track Me” mechanism suggested recently by the FTC, nor abandon its business model of collecting as much data about us as possible to serve us up to the highest paying advertiser. Nonetheless there could be subtle changes in the Page era that put our privacy back in the minds of Google engineers.
Consumer Watchdog’s satirical video pointed out many of Schmidt’s bloopers and was viewed by over 400,000 people online.
When Page and Co-founder Sergey Brin started Google, they envisioned a company that was more socially conscious and responsive than most corporations. That outlook was famously expressed by Google’s unofficial motto, “Don’t be evil.” In recent years, under Schmidt’s leadership, the motto had become a popular punch line for a joke. Now consumers know how Google has tracked them across the Internet, stole information from private Wi-Fi networks with its street-view cars, and turned private e-mail addresses on Gmail accounts into public social networks on its Buzz service.
During Schmidt’s watch, Google committed one of the largest privacy breaches ever, when its Street View cars sucked up private data from Wi-Fi networks in 30 countries around the world. The Wi-Spy debacle is under investigation by the FCC and is also the subject of a probe by more than 30 states attorneys general. Congress still needs to put Schmidt under oath and let the American people hear all the details of the scandal.
Schmidt may be out of the CEO’s chair in April, but he still needs to be in the witness chair in Congress. Perhaps today’s news makes it a little more likely that he will be called forth and sworn to testify in Washington DC one day soon.