I will share with you my concerns of what Eric Schmidt has said at MediaGuardian Edinburgh International TV Festival, hopefully, without repeating many points others have expressed in their articles (see refs). Schmidt‘s words got me thinking about this faxlore/viral email,
“Heaven is where the police are British, the lovers French, the mechanics German, the chefs Italian, and it is all organized by the Swiss.
Hell is where the chefs are British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss, the police German, and it is all organized by the Italians.“
Eric Schmidt‘s words about identity service and real names (see below with emphasis added) at Edinburgh raised some serious red flags. To me, hell is where Google (with Google+) is our Police, Judge, & Jury, all rolled into one.
In particular these words by Eric Schmidt have given me most concern.
“In the area of social media, we knew upfront 10 years ago that the Internet lacked essentially an accurate identity service. I’m not here by the way talking about Facebook, the media gets confused when I talk about this. If you think about it, the Internet would be better if we had an accurate notion that you were a real person as opposed to a dog, or a fake person, or a spammer or what have you.
And the notion of strong identity was never invented in the Internet. Many people worked on it – I worked on it as a scientist 20 years ago, and it’s a hard problem. So if we knew that it was a real person, then we could sort of hold them accountable, we could check them, [Kempton: "accountable"? How? Is where Google wants to play Police and Judge?] we could give them things, we could you know bill them, you know we could have credit cards and so forth and so on, there are all sorts of reasons.
And the Internet did not develop this in many ways because the Internet came out of universities where the issue of authentication wasn’t such a big issue. Everybody trusted everybody, you didn’t have these kinds of things.
But my general rule is people have a lot of free time and people on the Internet, there are people who do really really evil and wrong things on the Internet, and it would be useful if we had strong identity so we could weed them out. [Kempton: "weed them out"? Is this where Google wants to play Judge & Jury?] I’m not suggesting eliminating them, what I’m suggesting is if we knew their identity was accurate, we could rank them. Think of them like an identity rank. [Kempton: Again, is this where Google wants to play Judge & Jury?] [...]“
“[...] Well, the first comment is that Google+ is completely optional. In fact, many many people want to get in, if you don’t want to use it, you don’t have to.
[Kempton: I cannot agree. The old legal and economic model of "property rights" need to be modified/redefined when the acquisition, selling (via ads), ranking, weeding, etc of our personal identity & information are involved. The new expected and accepted behaviours should be shaped and defined by concerned users including myself, and not just unilaterally by the corporations (be it Google, Facebook, etc).].
The path to hell is sometimes/often paved with good intentions, and often good scientific intentions by “smart people”. The fact that these high tech systems and sensitive information can be seriously misused now and/or in the future cannot be left to sort out by future generations when it may be impossible for them to turn back the tide of horror.
I don’t think Google share 100% of the details and algorithms of how it does it searches and ranks its results (except a few high-level academic pappers). And judging from what it has done so far, I don’t expect it will change its mind with Google+ and be completely open. In fact, Google looks awfully close to “evil” now.
Even in our human based and reviewable judicial system, we often made serious and irrevocable mistakes. How can we trust Google’s automated system to “weed out” people and to hold people “accountable” without it being open and transparent? To remind us of the implications, just read up how the lives of Guy Paul Morin, David Milgaard, Donald Marshall, and Maher Arar have been affected by a system that failed them.
Would you trust Google to be your Police, Judge, and Jury? My answer is an emphatic NO!
Reference articles and video clips
* Gawker (with video), “Watch Google Describe How It Can Exploit Your Name“
* Pete Cashmore, Special to CNN, Aug 29, 2011, “Why Google+ will never back down on real names“
* NPR Andy Carvin‘s Aug 30, 2011 comment
* NPR Andy Carvin’s Aug 30, 2011 transcript of what Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in the Q&A at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International TV Festival
* Mathew Ingram, Gigaom “It’s official: Google wants to own your online identity“
* My friend Jan Rubak’s comment.
* Aug 29, 2011, ZDNet, “Google+: Eric Schmidt wants your real name or nothing at all“
* PC Magazine, Aug 29, 2011, “Report: Schmidt Says Google+ Is For ‘Real Names’ Only“
* Eric Schmidt’s Mac Taggart Lecture at Edinburgh International Television Festival (without the Q&A segment)
note: skip to the 0:36:00 mark (36 minutes in) for the start
* 11 Apr, 2011, BBC “Google’s Eric Schmidt to give MacTaggart lecture“
Here is a “sort of” transcript (definitely not word-for-word).
*** Other stuff:
Guardian, 28 Aug, 2011, “Google crashes TV’s Edinburgh party – What did the television industry make of Eric Schmidt’s MacTaggart speech?“
Guardian, 26 Aug, 2011, “Eric Schmidt: an engineer in EdinburghGoogle’s executive chair reaffirmed the revolution confronting his television industry audience“