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7 Creepy Faux Pas of Google CEO Eric Schmidt

In the last few months Eric Schmidt, the gaffe-prone CEO of Google, has made public statements that make us question whether the company's slogan still is "Don't be evil." In interview after interview, Schmidt has made tactless comments on especially sensitive and controversial topics such as online privacy and net neutrality.

As CEO, one of Schmidt's largest roles is to act as a spokesperson for the company, but that ironically seems to be his Achilles' heel. Here are some of his more recent faux pas.

1. "The average American doesn't realize how much of the laws are written by lobbyists." Schmidt made this remark last week. While he expressed shock at how Washington works, he neglected to mention that Google spent $1.34 million last quarter on lobbyists—an increase of 41% year-over-year—and as much as $2.72 million in the first half of 2010. If lobbyists are writing the laws, then Google is certainly dropping enough dough to make sure it's controlling the pen.

2. "We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about." And this said on the topic of privacy! Schmidt has the uncanny ability to confirm our darkest suspicions of Google.

3. "I don't believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time." Schmidt said this in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, which reported that "[Schmidt] predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends' social media sites." In order to escape the wide reach of Google's SEO, we'll soon have to change our names, as if covering up a digital scarlet letter? Schmidt later retracted the statement, calling it a joke.

4. "It's true that we see your searches. But we forget them after a while." Schmidt made this statement on The Colbert Report, when the jocular host asked Schmidt to confirm whether Google knows all "our likes [and] dislikes." When Colbert then asked why we should trust Google to forget our searches, Schmidt answered, "Not only do you have to, it's the law in a lot of countries."

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5. "There's such an overwhelming amount of information now, we can search where you are, see what you're looking at if you take a picture with your camera. One way to think about this is, we're trying to make people better people, literally give them better ideas—augmenting their experience. Think of it as augmented humanity." Not even Charlie Rose can keep Schmidt from going off message.

6. "The best thing that would happen is for Facebook to open up its data. Failing that, there are other ways to get that information," Schmidt told the audience at the Google Zeitgeist conference.

7. "We can suggest what you should do next, what you care about. Imagine: We know where you are, we know what you like," Schmidt said as the IFA's keynote speech in Berlin, amping up the creepiness.

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  • Crypto Metaphor


    Despite the comments above of the Google Kool-Aid drinkers, this article that you wrote back in October was incredibly prescient about identifying the fact that all of these gaffes were actually a very good reason as to why Eric Schmidt got booted out of his CEO position.

    Just imagine what sort of things he must have said to Page and Brin in meetings to pile the logs onto this bonfire you've detailed in your article. Wow. (Particularly in trying to explain why he made so many of these anti-Google comments, perhaps?)

  • Ken Rowland

    Personally, as a human being, I am appreciative of being 'augmented'.
    Actually, also, I'm a lobbyist for, hmmm, MYSELF, yes that's it. Anytime Google wants to Lobby-My-Lily with some 'lira' from that $1.35 million +/- quarterly stipend, just launch a PAYPAL at me via the send button...I'm in the phone book. Oh, nezzermind, you guys own the phonebook. Just launch it, I'll catch it! Make sure you get the gps coordinates right...

  • Gary Sanchez

    I you just desperate to find fodder for your hit piece? These statements are simply true and illustrative of our current reality while you are whoring yourself to the fear lobby.

  • Guest

    Most of these are just facts that savvy online users are already aware of.

    Regarding #1, I'm particularly glad that Google plays such an active roll in lobbying and politics. Money is unfortunately the best way to enact political change, Google has a lot of money, and every article that I've read about Google's lobbying efforts has portrayed them in full support of an open internet, of more widespread and cheaper (even free) internet access for consumers worldwide, and of the appropriate advancement of technology in the interests of consumers. These three points are vital to everyone's interests except for the telcoms who profit by being (a) the primary information providers, (b) the mostly exclusive and costly access points for most users, and (c) the providers of intentionally limited technology that allows them to maintain themselves as points (a) and (b).

    Google's support of the user is far and away the greatest success model of establishing and retaining customer loyalty and faith. If more companies acted as Google does in their own industries, our world would be a fantastically different place, albeit with far fewer global companies.

  • Chris Reich

    Is Schmidt gaffe-prone or transparent? I enjoy interviews with Mr. Schmidt. He's thoughtful and intelligent and his interviews don't bounce around silliness. I'd much rather listen to him than the Facebook founder or to listen to Bill Gates talk about giving away his money.

    I fail to see the gaffes unless you prefer he not openly discuss these things in public. Evil? Hardly. If I'm to perform a service for a client, the more I know and understand about my client, the better I can serve him. So if I say that I know what my clients wants, am I evil too?

    Chris Reich

  • Gary Elrod

    "every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends' social media sites"

    Why not? Instead of Logan's Run in which we are simply evaporated at adulthood let's have Schmidt's Run in which youth symbolically perish by leaving behind that photo of themselves beer bonging shirtless at the post tailgate kegger. In true social media fashion, their new name would be akin to a vanity plate that carefully transforms their current name into a phonetic version with a clever twist or numeric identifier.

    GRY28 LOL

  • therichbrooks

    These are odd faux pas because they all seem true. You think after the first couple they would have found someone else to handle the interviews. Even BP realized this.

    BTW, is that wax statue of Schmidt available for viewing at Madame Tussauds? Because that's creepy, too.

  • greg peters

    How about the fact that FastCompany has to approve this comment before it gets posted.

  • greg peters

    I completely agree with this comment. The writer of this article doesn't seem to understand that Eric S. is very honestly stating what most people already should understand to be true: As the world becomes more interconnected and people share more of themselves (likes, interests, dislikes, etc.), the people who have access to that data (such as Google and Facebook) are able to examine that data and make assumptions on the whole and/or individually. If you participate on such websites and/or the web in general, then you must accept the User Terms or stay away. If you are that paranoid, don't use the internet at all. Cut up your Ralph's club cards while your at it. If you have something personal against Eric S. because of his mannerisms or looks, etc. then be honest about it.

    The writer's response to what Eric says on numbers 5 and 6 especially go to show you that this writer doesn't quite understand what he's talking about. Do you pay people to write these articles freelance or are they in-house?

  • Elizabeth

    How are these faux-pas? Do you mean maybe according to the Google people wishing he'd sugarcoat? He's right -- Americans need to understand these things. I know that everything he says is pretty much true, but it doesn't stop me from using most of the Google services. The more aware we are of the "state of information," the more intelligently and responsibly we can submit or withhold our information on the internet. So many privacy problems come about because people don't get this. If you put something on the internet, it's on the internet. I think it would be more creepy if Google was lying about this. But it seems like Schmidt is being totally upfront.

  • Andrea J. Phillips

    Faux pas? No. Creepy? Yes.

    I agree that the only thing that makes these "gaffes" is that he's admitting things that Google presumably hopes that people haven't thought through. It makes me wonder if some people at Google are surprised at how little backlash their growing omniscience attracts. Do they sit around a conference table saying things like, "Amazing! We can now take and publish pictures from the street that can see right into people's homes! And no one says a peep! How can we top that?"

    The issues I have is that Google is the most prominent exception to your statement that people concerned about privacy can choose to "intelligently and responsibly...withhold our information on the internet." At this point, I don't see the potential threat to me personally that, say, pictures of what's inside my living room windows could be publicized around the world, but the potential for what Google has created (and what we have allowed them to create) to be used by someone whose mantra isn't "Do no evil" is mind-boggling.

    The fact that his comments are laughed off as "faux pas" or "tactless comments" is appalling (not just in this article, but as a general rule). My only guess about why Google's operations don't seem to raise any eyebrows is our affinity for their search engine in the early days, when the discoveries it allowed us to make were astounding, and their "Don't be evil" motto.

    I can't imagine it would be as easy to laugh off if any other person/organization in control of so much data about so many people worldwide were to say things like, "We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about....we can search where you are, see what you're looking at if you take a picture with your camera."

    [Adjusts tinfoil hat.]

    At least I hope not.