Google's CEO has a real PR problemOctober 26, 2010: 12:38 PM ET
Eric Schmidt's comments, whether jokes or a postmodern vision, are coming off creepy...and that is bad for Google.
By and large, I enjoy listening to what Google's Eric Schmidt has to say. I think he's refreshingly candid for a CEO of one of the world's most powerful and controversial companies. He seems to genuinely enjoy discussion and debate about the future of his company and the technology world in which it operates. That can be a real benefit to Google and the technology world.
But sometimes he says things that have to have Google's (GOOG) PR department cringing. Take yesterday's conversation with CNN's Parker|Spitzer. In discussion, Kathleen Parker asked Schmidt about Google's knowledge of where she lived. He responded, "Street View, we drive exactly once. So, you can just move, right?" Ugh.
Here's the video 1:10 in (or on YouTube):
Eric Schmidt issued a statement in response to the popularity of the video: "As you can see from the unedited interview, my comments were made during a fairly long back and forth on privacy. I clearly misspoke. If you are worried about Street View and want your house removed please contact Google and we will remove it."
That may have been a joke or may have been alluding to the fact that Google Streetview cars come around just once, but it doesn't matter. It comes off really bad to a populace already wary of Google's intrusion into their personal lives. Those same Google (GOOG) Streetview cars are causing concern for many because they picked up personal information from unencrypted routers.
I'm personally not too worried about Streetview, myself. For one, Google has stopped the practice of using them to find coordinates of Wifi Hotspots (they use Google Maps running on Android devices instead :/ ). Also, Google came forward voluntarily that they had been storing data from routers, which seems to have been a coding mistake, and they've taken steps to make sure that kind of coding issue doesn't happen again.
But that doesn't mean that writers don't like to jump on a story and, importantly, the minutiae coming from the Google CEO's mouth is often great fodder for such stories.
In the past few months, Eric Schmidt has given those spooked by Google's privacy invasion a lot of things to fear. For instance, he said at a recent conference:
"We Know Where You Are. We Know Where You've Been. We Can More Or Less Know What You're Thinking About."
Sure, it is true for any company that makes a mobile device with GPS and uses a search engine, but for someone who doesn't understand the context of geo-targeted web usage, that is more than creepy. That is bad. And scary.
He also jokingly said that because the embarrassing things you do on the web as a kid will follow you forever, one day, you'll likely get the option of changing your name when you become an adult. He dismissed this as a joke, but the fact that there is some truth to that scares people.
Unfortunately, for those of us who enjoy the straight talk, Dr. Schmidt has to tighten up his message. The straight talk isn't doing Google any good.