Creep Executive Officer

In a weekend WSJ interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Schmidt said:

“I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next. […] The thing that makes newspapers so fundamentally fascinating—that serendipity—can be calculated now. We can actually produce it electronically.”

Nick Carr, quoting the above, quips:

I hope Google will also be able to tell me the best candidate to vote for in elections. I find that such a burden.

But Carr doesn’t even mention the oddest part of the WSJ interview:

[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.

I’ve been thinking about this since Saturday. Here’s my theory: the problem with Google is that Eric Schmidt is creepy. I think he’s a really weird dude. Recall, for example, this comment of Schmidt’s from 2009, regarding Google and privacy: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

The industry is filled with eccentric CEOs — billionaires who, say, wear a wardrobe that consists of nothing but identical black shirts and Levi’s 501 jeans, or who dress as a samurai warrior, including swords, at their home. But Schmidt doesn’t seem eccentric (or at least not merely so). He seems creepy.

Here’s a report by Jon Fortt for Fortune, regarding a talk Schmidt gave in March in Abu Dhabi:

In one of the sharper exchanges of the afternoon, a questioner challenged Schmidt with the fact that Google is collecting a staggering amount of information about who we are, what we’re thinking, and even where we are. “All this information that you have about us: where does it go? Who has access to that?” (Google servers and Google employees, under careful rules, Schmidt said.) “Does that scare everyone in this room?” The questioner asked, to applause. “Would you prefer someone else?” Schmidt shot back – to laughter and even greater applause. “Is there a government that you would prefer to be in charge of this?”

That’s a glib answer, but at least our government answers to its citizens through elections. Schmidt answers to Google shareholders. And who’s to say the government won’t have access, by way of subpoenas, to the information Google — and any other cloud service providers — store about us? Maybe the question isn’t who should hold this information, but rather should anyone hold this information.

More and more, I get the feeling that if there’s a rift between the old “Don’t be evil” Google and the new “Let’s do whatever we want” Google, that it’s a rift between Schmidt and Larry/Sergey — if not personally, then at least culturally within the company. On the one side, the Larry/Sergey Google that makes amazing cool things — the search engine, Gmail, Android. On the other, the Schmidt Google that, in its efforts to serve ads as efficiently as possible, no longer seems concerned with the traditional Western concept of personal privacy.

A lot of people seem surprised by Google’s alliance with Verizon on mobile network neutrality. That stance doesn’t fit with my view of the Larry/Sergey Google. But it fits my idea of the Schmidt Google like a glove.