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Google boss: 'Creeped out by Street View? Just move'

Latest Schmidt gaffe vanished by CNN

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Uh, forgets?

As well-known privacy campaigner and former Federal Trade Commission employee Christopher Soghoian explains, Google does not "forget" or delete your searches. "It merely deletes a little bit of data that associates the searches to known Google users," Soghoian says.

As Chris Soghoian adds, Schmidt is a man with a PhD in computer science. You might say that a computer science doctorate hardly prepares you for discussions with the international news media. But it should indicate that you're capable of understanding how Google's server logs work.

After Schmidt said that Google retains search data for "a year, year and a half," he was asked "who decides?" He responded by saying that the company is forced to retain data by European law. "Well, in fact, the European government passed a set of laws that require us to keep it for a certain amount," he said, "and the reason is that the public safety sometimes wants to be able to look at that information."

Google has long made this argument. But as Soghoian points out, the EU has said that Google is not subject to its data-retention directive. "The Data Retention Directive applies only to providers of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communication networks and not to search engine systems," read a letter from the European Commission's Data Protection Unit, which is represented on the Article 29 Working Party, the committee of Europe's data protection authorities.

"Accordingly, Google is not subject to this Directive as far as it concerns the search engine part of its applications and has no obligations thereof."

In fact, Google moved to its nine-month policy after years of pressure from governments and privacy advocates, and the Article 29 Working Party still says that the policy does not comply with EU law.

"Deleting the last octet of the IP-addresses is insufficient to guarantee adequate anonymisation," read a May letter from the Working Party to Google. "Such a partial deletion does not prevent identifiability of data subjects. In addition to this, you state you retain cookies for a period of 18 months. This would allow for the correlation of individual search queries for a considerable length of time. It also appears to allow for easy retrieval of IP-addresses, every time a user makes a new query within those 18 months."

Schmidt isn't just leaping across the creepy line, he's misrepresenting Google's data-retention policies. And in both cases, it's unclear whether Schmidt completely realizes what's he doing or whether he's capable of stopping it. There's no shortage of high-profile pundits who point out that Schmidt only continues to creep people out with his seemingly offhanded claims that they — and not Google — are to blame if they're uncomfortable with Google, well, knowing where they are, where they’ve been, and more or less knowing what they're thinking about. And yet he continues to make these claims.

The situation only snowballs when Schmidt seems to chuckle when his approach is questioned and claims that comments seemingly made in earnest were mere jokes. By insisting Google isn't creepy, he only gets creepier.

And then he does it again. ®

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