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'These heroes are dead, because they lived 500 years ago'

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A combination of Moore's law and Android will bring down corrupt and authoritarian regimes over the coming years, Eric Schmidt declared at a Google conference on Privacy today.

The former Google CEO turned exec chairman and company ambassador also appeared to maybe rule out the firm becoming involved in the creation of facial recognition databases.

Schmidt was talking at the Google Big Tent event in London today following an onstage talk between Wael Ghonim, the Google employee caught up in the Egyptian revolution earlier this year, and Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow.

Schmidt said that "last year's Android smartphone is next year's feature phone", a development that puts increasing power to communicate in the hands of more and more people around the world.

"All this is happening because of Moore's law," said Schmidt, promoting the venerable Intel exec from silicon visionary to harbinger of world freedom.

Responding to audience questions on apparent apathy about politics in the West despite the free flow of information, Schmidt suggested Westerners had become lazy, forgetting that people had died fighting for the liberties we enjoy.

In a classic Schmidtism, he added: "These people are heroes. They're also dead because they were alive 100, or 500 years ago."

Schmidt said any government that sought to restrict free communication between its citizens did so at its peril. While such attempt might succeed for a while, it would inevitably fail, as the internet did not offer government the same control as manipulation of mass broadcasting.

At the same time, he appear to conflate this freedom for citizens to disseminate data with a firm's ability to continue collect data in ways that privacy activists - and some governments - object to.

"What are you going to do, turn off the internet?" he said. He then rehashed well-worn Google arguments about the impact of Google and the internet in general on commerce.

However, he insisted that Google had learned its lessons the "hard way" about ensuring it put users', and governmental, concerns about privacy at the heart of its policy making process, repeating the phrase "with your permission". Of course, he'd prefer self-regulation by the industry, as politicians tend to trip up by making their rules over-broad.

Schmidt admitted he'd been burned over his references in previous debates about his references to the "creepy line".

But he appeared to set his own creepy line, saying as a computer scientist he was amazed how good facial recognition technology was. While Google used some facial recognition technology in its Picasa product, he said it was "unlikely" the firm would launch a generalised visual database, not least because of the legal uncertainties, particularly in Europe.

"For me the visual recognition stuff is concerning," he said.

But he added - "some company is going to cross that line." ®

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