Google's recently responded to such doubts, blasting those that would harbor
them. Google CEO Eric Schmidt commented to CNBC, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe
you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."
He also admitted that Google does sometimes release its users' private data, stating, "If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines - including Google - do retain this information for some time and it's important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities."
Taken by itself, this comment seems pretty reasonable. Yahoo's Law Enforcement guide offers similar comments, indicating that law enforcement officials must ask within 45 days and come bearing a 2703(d) order to access users' instant messenger logs. However, there is an expedited process if there's "imminent danger of death or serious physical injury."
The more troublesome comment is Mr. Schmidt's indictment of those who wish privacy. One must also consider Mr. Schmidt's own demands for personal privacy. Mr. Schmidt banned CNET, one of the top tech news sites on the web, from Google for an entire year for publishing information about the CEO, including his salary; his neighborhood, some of his hobbies and political donations. Where did CNET find this info? From none other than Google itself.
In total, the comments paint what is perhaps an alarming picture, when you consider that even large companies have been subject to hacks, data leaks, and subpoenas. While some may indeed want to cover up their "evil" actions, others may seek privacy to hide persecution at work over medical conditions, or to protect their business from competitors who could seek to use inside info to gain an unfair advantage. In short, while Mr. Schmidt may consider privacy a luxury a privacy that citizens don't need, it's essential to many.
The CNBC's Maria Bartiromo, who has interviewed Mr. Schmidt before in the past, asks tough but fair questions, like "People are treating Google like their most trusted friend. Should they be?"
Mr. Schmidt's responses indicate a clear disregard for consumer privacy. At the same time his company has fought deals like the Microsoft-Yahoo partnership complaining that they provide an unfair competitive advantage and possibly endanger consumers' privacy. And he has fought equally hard to protect his own privacy.
A clip of the interview can be viewed at Gawker.