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Eric Schmidt and the end of an era

Backspin By , Network World
August 13, 2010 10:40 AM ET
Gibbs

Network World - Do you know that there are such things as "cars"? And did you know that I could walk up and shoot you and then, using a "car", I could be 60 miles away in as many minutes? It would be almost impossible to find me. Or I could rob a bank and, using a "car", make my getaway.

These "car" things and the "roads" and "highways" they run on are obviously very dangerous. If they should fall into the wrong hands all manner of dastardly deeds could be undertaken, which is why I say that we must make sure we know exactly where people using these "cars" are all the time.

What we need is a tamper-proof GPS transponder in every vehicle that sends the authorities real-time location data. There should also be heavy fines and jail sentences for non-operational transponders. If we are to be a safe society there should be no such thing as anonymous drivers or anonymous vehicles.

Just imagine for a second if I was serious … you'd think I'd lost my mind. Now, consider what Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently suggested: "In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you."

Schmidt also said: "Privacy is not the same thing as anonymity. It's very important that Google and everyone else respect people's privacy. People have a right to privacy; it's natural; it's normal. It's the right way to do things."

I love the way Schmidt put it, "Google and everyone else" … not "all of us" but "Google" … and then "everyone else". This is a big "tell," indicating how Schmidt is playing his hand and how the issues are being framed.

Anyway, what Schmidt is arguing for is that there should be no such thing as anonymity and by "asynchronous threats," I assume Schmidt means undesirable or illegal behaviors where the causes and effects are separated in time.

If this is indeed what Schmidt meant then what he's suggesting is not just that Internet access should only be available to authenticated users, but their online activities should be tracked and recorded because, without a behavior trail, authentication alone won't address the detection of "asynchronous threats."

In the past I've admired Eric Schmidt for his business acumen (abandoning Novell for Google was pretty damn sharp) but, in the light of these comments, I can only conclude one thing: Mr. Schmidt done lost his mind.

Schmidt also opined: "If you are trying to commit a terrible, evil crime, it's not obvious that you should be able to do so with complete anonymity. There are no systems in our society which allow you to do that. Judges insist on unmasking who the perpetrator was. So absolute anonymity could lead to some very difficult decisions for our governments and our society as a whole and I don't think we want that either."

Schmidt had to have meant "it's obvious that you should not be able to do so with complete anonymity" rather than what he actually said, so we'll assume that was just a misspeak because had he meant what he said, we'd be having a wholly different discussion.

Here Schmidt is using the "bogeyman under every bed" argument; he is asserting that "terrible, evil crime[s]" are likely consequences of a presupposed "complete anonymity" as if the latter were easily achieved and the former, the "terrible, evil crime[s]", were commonplace.

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