I just came across this fascinating article, now 10 years old, detailing how former Google CEO Eric Schmidt cut off relations with CNET after a reporter there had the temerity to detail the information she was able to find out about him via Google:
Last month, Elinor Mills, a writer for CNET News, a technology news Web site, set out to explore the power of search engines to penetrate the personal realm: she gave herself 30 minutes to see how much she could unearth about Mr. Schmidt by using his company’s own service. The resulting article, published online at CNET’s News.com under the sedate headline “Google Balances Privacy, Reach,” was anything but sensationalist. It mentioned the types of information about Mr. Schmidt that she found, providing some examples and links, and then moved on to a discussion of the larger issues. She even credited Google with sensitivity to privacy concerns.
When Ms. Mills’s article appeared, however, the company reacted in a way better suited to a 16th-century monarchy than a 21st-century democracy with an independent press. David Krane, Google’s director of public relations, called CNET.com’s editor in chief to complain about the disclosure of Mr. Schmidt’s private information, and then Mr. Krane called back to announce that the company would not speak to any reporter from CNET for a year.
At some point, I’ll collate all the cases like this I can find: it’s grimly fascinating to watch digital elites react with anger to the transparency they seek to impose on everyone else. In this case Schmidt seems to be rather averse to the assumptions about transparency that Google have long sought to inculcate in their users. From pg 177-178 of In The Plex:
Omitting a delete button was supposed to teach you to view email—and information itself—the way Google did. The implicit message was that the only thing that should be deleted was the concept of limited storage. Not everybody at Google subscribed to this philosophy—Eric Schmidt had long before instituted a personal practice of making his emails “go away as quickly as possible” unless specifically asked to retain them.
From pg 178 of the same book, concerning how Google see privacy organisations. Note how the epistemic asymmetry, in terms of access to and understanding of internal technical processes, allows criticism to be dismissed:
To most people at Google, though, automatic archiving was a cause for celebration, and gripes from privacy do-gooders were viewed as misguided or even cynically—exploiting a phony issue for their own status and fund-raising. “Even to this day, I’ll read people saying that Google keeps your [deleted] email forever. Like, totally false stuff!” says Buchheit. Buchheit called his critics “fake privacy organizations” because in his mind “they were primarily interested in getting attention for themselves and were going around telling lies about things.”
Categories: Digital Sociology