Google CEO defends privacy policies

Chief Executive Eric Schmidt says the company's technology doesn't violate its founding motto, "Don't be evil."

SAN FRANCISCO--Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt acknowledged that his company's search engine can ruffle privacy feathers, but said the company's technology doesn't violate the company's founding motto, "Don't be evil."

Schmidt discovered his own home phone number through Google, but said he was able to remove it by filling out . But Google shouldn't be blamed when that sort of private information crops up, he said.

Eric Schmidt
Eric Schmidt
CEO, Google

"Google does not discover things that are not public," said Schmidt, answering questions on the stage of the Gartner Symposium here Wednesday. "Many people are disturbed to find their home phone number. But we found it because it was a public piece of information."

In response to a question about how Google treats consumer privacy, he tried to illustrate how the company's don't-be-evil philosophy trumps technology by recounting a meeting he attended with company co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. In it, a business executive suggested a particular change at Google.

"One of the engineers says, 'That's evil.' It was like setting off a bomb in the middle of the table," Schmidt said. The concern was taken seriously: "You can pull the ripcord and stop the production line."

He added that after a long debate, the engineer's assessment prevailed over the business executive's idea. "They concluded it was (evil), and this poor person was thrown out the room."

Google has faced growing privacy complaints as the company's power has increased. Consumer advocates and legislators criticized the search giant last year for its Gmail Web-based e-mail service and its practice of scanning e-mail documents to deliver related ads. The furor eventually died, but concerns remained.

More recently, Google's Web Accelerator has been the target of complaints. The company's map-linked satellite imagery also shines a spotlight on individual houses.

But the image detail is deliberately limited, Schmidt said. "We cannot see your swing set, and we're not trying to," he said. And Google has complied with some government agency requests to blank out areas of its satellite maps. But in general the benefits of more information outweigh the problems, he said.

"The value of more information so overwhelms its misuse that we've not had material problems there," Schmidt said.

The CEO also outlined his company's business strategy and technological advantages it has over traditional information technology companies. "Google is in the information industry, and that is a

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