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Schmidt: 'Elites' not 'common men' fret over net privacy

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In the end, Eric Schmidt can't help but undermine his own defense of Google's data collection and retention policies.

Speaking with The London Evening Standard this week, Google's executive chairman and former CEO said that "elites" are more concerned with what data Google retains than "the common man". The implication was that the so-called "elites" have blown the issue out of proportion, but his words only highlight how big the issue really is.

It's true. "The common man" doesn't care. But this is because the common man doesn't realize his data is being retained.

Schmidt said Google "fully discloses" its data retention policies. "In Google's case, we solve that problem in respect of log retention... So your searches - and again this is all very fully disclosed - are kept for 12 to 18 months in a complex series of ways, and after that, we anonymize them," he told The Evening Standard. But the common man is none the wiser.

At Google, data retention is very much an opt-out situation, and most people have no idea their searches remain on Google's servers for so long. And opting out isn't exactly easy.

Schmidt speaks of Google "solving" the log retention problem. It's not solved, and what Google has done, it only did under pressure. The company adjusted its retention policies only after complaints from elites at the EU. Previously, your search data was set to remain untouched on the company's servers in perpetuity.

During his trip to London this week, Schmidt also spoke at a Google-sponsored privacy event, and according to our man on the ground, the irrepressible Eric made a point of saying that the world's governments should let net companies regulate themselves when it comes to privacy. But if governments had left Google to its own devices, data retention would be a far greater problem than it is today.

According to The Evening Standard, Schmidt supported his argument about data retention and the common man with a mention of Google Street View in Germany. Street View sparked complaints mong the elites in Germany, Schmidt apparently argued, and yet the service is "overwhelmingly" popular there. His argument is a bit muddled – Street View is very different from search log retention – but Schmidt does succeed in highlighting another example of Google pushing the limits of privacy until someone finally gives the people the right to push back.

After government complaints, Google agreed to let German residents opt-out of having their buildings appear online, and nearly 250,000 German households and businesses asked to have their building blurred. At that London event this week, our man reported, Schmidt said the "customer" should decide how the customer's data is used. The customer should. And that's why we need a higher power ensuring that Google doesn't make those decisions on its own. ®

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