If You Have Something That You Don't Want Anyone To Know...

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 11, 2009
Updated • May 21, 2018

If You Have Something That You Don't Want Anyone To Know, Maybe You Shouldn't Be Doing It In The First Place. That is what Google's CEO Erik Schmidt said in a live CNBC broadcast last week when asked about his stance on privacy.

The sentence itself does not make that much sense as there is a huge difference between doing something and publishing something online without proper protection so that search engines will index the information even if this was not intended by the publisher.

But doing can also refer to performing a search on a search engine, writing an email, viewing a video or accessing information about something in a news post. Google has the means to connect the dots to create a detailed user profile which it may cross-link with additional details for every Google service the user accesses and uses.

One reaction to the video caused a huge media response. Asa Dotzler, a community coordinator at Mozilla, posted his thoughts about the expression on his personal blog which did include a link to add Bing as a search engine in Mozilla Firefox.

So, Asa, recommends Bing over Google because they "have a better privacy policy". Many news sites turned this into "Mozilla Recommends Microsoft Bing instead of Google which apparently is not exactly true.

The hypocrisy in Schmidt's statement was revealed by Gawker which mentioned that Mr. Schmidt "blacklisted CNET reporters from Google after the tech news company published an article with information about his salary, neighborhood, hobbies, and political donations -- all obtained from Google searches".

The excellent EFF article on the matter highlights the error in logic:

We have an unfortunate tendency to conflate personal and private with secret and we say, "Well, given that this information isn't a secret, given that it's known by other people, how can you say that it's private?" And we can in fact say that there are a lot of things that are [not] in secret that are in private. Every one of us does something private and not secret when we go to the bathroom. Every one of us has parents who did at least one private thing that's not a secret, otherwise we wouldn't be here.

So this decision — this determination — over when and under what circumstances your personal information is divulged tracks very closely to how free and how much power you have in a society. When you look at really stratified societies, particularly the great totalitarian empires of the last century, the further up the ladder you go, the more raw power you wield, the more raw power you have over this disclosure of your personal information. And the further down the ladder you go, the less power you have.

Did you follow the story on the news? What's your take?

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If You Have Something That You Don't Want Anyone To Know...
If You Have Something That You Don't Want Anyone To Know, Maybe You Shouldn't Be Doing It In The First Place.
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  1. Rush said on December 12, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Wow, this might be the first time I have not completely agreed with you, Rarst. One for the log books.
    It’s more the conveyed attitude in the statement, than anything else, that got to me. The irony, Martin has pointed out so well, also.
    They’re not telling me anything I don’t already know, true. They’re not doing anything that is not logical for them from both a revenue and legal perspective, also true. As Rarst has implied, just statements of fact, and he is correct in saying that Schmidt shouldn’t be burned for statements of fact. What they do, they do.
    Where the gasoline starts getting poured in my world, is where he stretches out into speculation about what I do. If I don’t want what I do made public record, I am hiding something. False, speculation. If I do something that I do not want to make public, it is something I shouldn’t do. Again, false. Complete stereotypical speculation. Because I wish to set by “privacy” in the same fashion that I set my firewall (deny all, then allow what I trust as opposed to allow all and deny what I don’t), I am a miscreant. Absolutely absurd, and not even worth the term speculation. If I am a miscreant, it is because I do something wrong, not my desire for privacy. That’s where I light and toss the match.
    What is most alarming is that those that are collecting this information, and therefore power as the two are equal, dare to stereotype and speculate rather than take responsibility for their revenue source and remain objective, respectful and most importantly silent and secure.
    Their marketing plan requires them to collect information. Ok. The laws require that they share that information if requested. Again, Ok. Running off at the mouth is disrespectful, speculative and irresponsible. What’s worse is that this is not about his corporate sponsors. He may feel threatened if he insulted one of them. This was however only about those lowly, pathetic, mindless rabble called USERS. They can’t do anything about it, so why feel like respect is owed where retaliation is absent?
    Google is a great tool, and a giant among men, so to speak. Yet, no longer are they the only giant, nor do we still need one giant to replace or challenge another. Dude’s I hate MS. By far and away they are the greatest hacker on the planet. I, however, did switch to Bing. Why? Not because after reading Asa’s post I believed more in MS that Google, nor their privacy policies or agreements. Mozilla gets 90%+ of all their revenues from Google, so I expect at some level, that statement will be recanted. Because after reading Asa’s post, it occurred to me, I could.
    Completely killing Google is really only a homepage change, adding a few favorites and the hassle of signing up for a different webmail service away. (Man… that last part IS huge though, isn’t it?)
    Google is great because we use it, NOT, we use Google because it is great. Google needs users to survive, users no longer need Google. Erik Schmidt would do well to remember that.
    Sorry for long wall of text.

    1. Rarst said on December 13, 2009 at 10:23 am

      I don’t see his remark as judgmental or disrespectful.

      I take it for what it is – if there is something you don’t want known it is common sense to not announce that to Google. Because there is a possibility (very remote and covered by privacy policy) that information would be used in a way out of your control.

      By the way what I find disrespectful is how channel killed what he was saying just before to destroy context of phrase and maximize chance that it will explode. As it did.

  2. DanTe said on December 12, 2009 at 5:26 am

    I have to admit that I had only read the “scare” tactic stories. But than I have always been a paranoid of Google’s integrated “big brother knows all” services. Yes, governments can force companies to comply with their laws. But that doesn’t mean I have to make it easy for me to be reamed by governments by centralizing all my services with one provider. As such, I do tend to separate email, phone, search, news et al between different vendors.

    For those of you familiar with D&D, I have the Advantage of Being ZERO. And I intend to keep it that way.

  3. Computer Repair said on December 11, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    Very true, that sentence doesn’t make much sense. However, the rest of the interview is great, thanks for posting it here.

  4. Rarst said on December 11, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    I wonder just how many posts bashing this are based on this single out of context phrase alone.

    Yes, stuff is logged. Yes, Google is subject to laws and may be forced to share that away. Duh! Burn the corporate guy for saying truth for a change!

    What would we prefer to hear? That he lied how Google, is of course, our “trusted friend”?

  5. kurt wismer said on December 11, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    i think too much thought is being put into thoughtful rebuttals to schmidt’s statements. i think a more visceral rebuttal is needed because it will sink into people’s minds without as much work on their part.

    the one i like (in reply to someone who suggests you only want to hide things if you’re doing something wrong) is as follows:
    “well then i suppose you won’t mind me following you into the bathroom with a camera”

  6. Barbarosa said on December 11, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    I recommend highly ‘”I’ve Got Nothing to Hide” and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy’ by Daniel J. Solove, a professor of law at the George Washington University Law School.
    Follow the link on his homepage and you can download the full article as a pdf.
    He solidly debunks the argument that no privacy problem exists if a person has nothing to hide.

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