Google says it won't pull an AOL

CEO Eric Schmidt says the Net giant's top priority for its search engine is user trust.

Elinor Mills
Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
3 min read
SAN JOSE, Calif.--Google users should have faith that their Web searches won't end up being public information like they have at AOL, according to Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

"We have systems in place that won't allow it to happen," Schmidt told reporters Wednesday after a keynote discussion at the Search Engine Strategies conference here. "Our No. 1 priority is the trust our users have, and that would be a violation of trust, so the answer is that would not happen."

However, during the keynote discussion, Schmidt had hedged a bit, saying, "We are reasonably satisfied...that this kind of thing could not happen at Google," before adding, "Never say never."

AOL apologized on Monday for releasing search log data on subscribers that had been intended for use with a newly launched research site. While the data was anonymous, it revealed disturbingly sensitive and personal information about users that privacy advocates said could be traced back to specific individuals.

"Maybe it wasn't a good idea to release the data," Schmidt said in the conference session. "There are many things inside our company that we don't share...starting with user queries...I always thought it was fertile ground for the government to snoop."

He noted that Google fought a request from the Department of Justice for similar data, the scope of which a judge limited, giving the search giant a partial victory. "That's an example of how strongly we take this issue," Schmidt said.

The chief executive complained about Web sites that publish sensitive data, such as anti-abortion sites that reveal addresses for clinics and doctors. "Google is simply an aggregator of information, and the people who publish that information better have a good reason for publishing it," he said.

"The good news about these sites is that they're not in the first page (of search results and that) the number of crazy people is small," he said. "We worry a lot about this because we want Google to be used as a positive force in the world. We're convinced that the overwhelming value of having all that information available to you...really does justify what we do."

Asked if Google, which owns a 5 percent stake in AOL, had contacted the Time Warner subsidiary to discuss the privacy breach, Schmidt said he had not personally made any calls because he has been in "deal mode" with other companies. "I don't want to criticize AOL. They're a good partner of ours," he said.

Google has been busy making agreements designed to expand its lucrative online advertising network. On Monday, the search giant announced an advertising and search deal with MySpace.com, the most popular social-networking site. Also this week, Google said it would distribute ad-supported clips from MTV's cable networks over its targeted AdSense advertising network.

"These are big expansions of new content which we believe will be very successful to our advertisers," he said. "It's obvious that much of the world's video will be put onto the Web or repurposed for the Web," and the content owners will want to monetize it.

"We've always wanted to expand our advertising reach and our advertising network and monetize other forms of content," Schmidt added.

"We, in fact, are talking...to many of the online communities, to many of the content companies, as we should," he said. "Their models are also changing, and we're learning from them."

MTV Networks President Michael Wolfe contacted Google even before he joined MTV last year, Schmidt said. "He suggested to us (doing) targeted ads for video online," Schmidt said. "He calls me and says, 'Why don't we try to build this product?'"

Radio also is a big opportunity for advertising, particularly targeted advertising from Google, which is testing selling radio ads after its acquisition of radio ad provider dMarc Broadcasting.

"Targetable radio ads are starting now," he said. "Targeted measurable television ads on the Internet are starting now. We're thinking about using our system for every form of ad."

Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch, which is hosting the conference, joked that Google was releasing many products that touch on so many different parts of people's lives it could be threatening. "I want to say, 'I surrender. Give me the Google implant,'" he quipped, before asking if Google's reach has limits.

Google has a "master plan" to solve people's online problems, Schmidt said. "The test we apply is not whether we think the product is great or whether we love it or use it, but does it fundamentally impact the way people use the Internet?"

Schmidt said he does a Web search anywhere from 15 to 100 times a day. "It's a different way of living your life because if you always have Google around you can always ask questions," he said.