Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/10/25/schmidt_on_street_view/

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

Latest Schmidt gaffe vanished by CNN

By Cade Metz

Posted in Security, 25th October 2010 20:36 GMT

Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said that if you don't like Google Street View cars photographing your house, you can "just move."

“Street View. We drive exactly once,” Schmidt said during an appearance on CNN's “Parker Spitzer" late last week. “So, you can just move, right?”

Schmidt's words were broadcast across the net on Friday, but they've been edited from the video now available on the CNN website. Before it was edited out, the moment was reported by The Wall Street Journal.

After he unloaded that "just move" bit, there was an exchange between Schmidt and show cohost Kathleen Parker, and then Schmidt laughed. So, says The Journal, it's unclear whether the comment was meant as a joke.

In August, Schmidt famously told The Journal that every young person will be entitled to automatically change their names when they reach adulthood in order to escape all the embarrassing stuff they did on social networking sites. And though the paper said this claim was made "apparently seriously," Schmidt later told the satirical US news program The Colbert Report that the statement was "a joke."

On the CNN program, as he continued to discuss Street View, Schmidt added that “the important point is we only do it once” and that “this is not a monitoring situation.”

CNN tells AllThingsDigital that Google did not ask it to remove the Street View exchange. And Google released a statement to The Journal explaining Schmidt's words.

"The point Eric was making is that our Street View service provides only a static picture in time, and doesn’t provide real-time imagery or provide any information about where people are," the company said. "Of course, we also allow users to request that their home be removed from Street View.”

Earlier this month, Schmidt said that Google's policy is "to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it" — which was just the most prominent example of Schmidt getting right up to the creepy line and leaping across it with abandon. In December, Schmidt told CNBC that if you're concerned about Google retaining your personal data, then you must be doing something you shouldn't be doing. He later said much the same about internet anonymity. And more recently, he told a Washington audience: "We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

During his CNN appearance, those last words were tossed back at Schmidt by Kathleen Parker and her fellow show host, former New York attorney general and governor Elliot Spitzer. Schmidt responded with a defense of the company's data-retention policies. As on The Colbert Show, Schmidt claimed that Google "forgets" your searches after a certain amount of time — but his discussion of Google's policies don't quite stand up to scrutiny, which only exacerbates the creepiness issue.

You can see Schmidt's (edited) appearance here:

"We keep the searches that you do for roughly a year, year and a half, and then we forget them," Schmidt told Parker and Spitzer. But according to official policy, Google erases the last octet of a user's IP address from its server logs after nine months, and it removes cookie data after 18 months with a one-way cryptographic hash. The policy was announced in the fall of 2008, and it was implemented sometime before November of 2009.

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. ®