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Assange dubs Google 'privatized NSA,' pillories Eric Schmidt

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange doesn't let the walls of the Ecuadorian embassy in London stop him from criticizing on the Google exec for allegedly collaborating with the US.

Zack Whittaker Writer-editor
Zack Whittaker is a former security editor for CNET's sister site ZDNet.
Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Zack Whittaker
Seth Rosenblatt
3 min read

During a New York City launch event for his new book, Wikileaks' Julian Assange spoke via video link to a small crowd. CNET/CBS Interactive

NEW YORK -- The first (and so far only) meeting between Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange turned out to be a bust when it occurred in 2011.

And given what Assange had to say about Schmidt on Wednesday at a Manhattan launch party to promote his new book, "When Google Met WikiLeaks," it's unlikely he'll be able to line up a second tête-à-tête.

Attending the event live by videoconference from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he's been granted sanctuary, Assange called Google a "privatized NSA." The reference is to the US National Security Agency, whose surveillance practices caused an uproar last year when classified information about them was disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Assange went on to claim that the search giant has links to other departments within the US government and US military.

"People who use Google are the product," Assange said, likening the search giant's collection of data for marketing purposes to what some have called the NSA's strategy of collecting as much information as it possibly can. Referring to Android, Google's mobile operating system, Assange said it's "constantly sending your location...streaming back your contacts, emails and everything you search for. It's all collected."

Despite his dislike of Google's business practices, Assange said he and Schmidt are actually "quite similar" to each other.

Schmidt, he said, was quick to grasp difficult concepts, such as how the anonymizing network Tor functions.

Schmidt's job, he said is "difficult" because he has to be "secretary of state" for Google. Assange said it was "sad" that Schmidt had to resort to insults in his interview with ABC News yesterday.

Aware of the arrival of Assange's book, Schmidt adamantly denied his allegations in that interview.

"Julian is very paranoid about things. Google never collaborated with the NSA and in fact, we've fought very hard against what they did," Schmidt said. "We have taken all of our data, all of our exchanges, and we fully encrypted them so no one can get them, especially the government."

Assange said the clash of ideologies was "not a matter of personalities. At least, not until last night."

The 42-year-old Assange recently marked two years in the embassy. Following a British court's extradition order that would send him to Sweden to answer allegations that he sexually assaulted two women there, Assange sought political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London on June 19, 2012.

Assange fears that the Swedish charges are little more than a ruse to see him extradited to the United States.

The US has pursued a four-year-long criminal investigation of WikiLeaks, which Assange claims is the biggest Department of Justice investigation of a journalistic publisher since the 1917 passage of the Espionage Act.

Founded in 2006, WikiLeaks' website hosts leaked secret government documents from around the world, such as the Global Intelligence Files, which shed light on the role of businesses in governmental surveillance. But WikiLeaks is perhaps best known for hosting classified Iraq and Afghan War documents provided by US Army Private First Class Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley Manning. Convicted for violating the Espionage Act and dishonorably discharged, Manning is currently serving a 35-year sentence for her role in leaking the documents.

Assange's attorneys have said that Swedish officials can interview him over the phone or by videoconference, a common practice in such cases, but Swedish officials have refused any such accommodation. Assange's legal team said British taxpayers have shelled out more than $11 million for the 24-hour surveillance required to keep him from leaving the country.