You know something's wrong with the potential application of some technology when Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, says the Cookie Monster won't build a giant database able to recognise and identify individual faces. It is well known that the company has, in the past, worked on such a system but now it will not be deployed. Martyn Warwick reports.
Eric Schmidt, was speaking to an audience at Google’s "Big Tent" gathering on the growth of the Internet and the ramifications this may have for the privacy of the individual in a world increasingly dominated by huge databases containing information on billions of people.
Schmidt opined that facial recognition technology is one of the developments that has "most surprised" him and added that the “surprising accuracy of these systems is very concerning”.
He was then asked a question about his infamous phrase “crossing the creepy line” and just where Google will draw the line when it comes to the privacy of the individual.
He replied that Google is “unlikely” ever to adopt or use facial recognition but added, "While we won't do it, some company is going to cross that line”.
The Google chairman then said that regulators and law makers should stand aloof from restricting or otherwise interfering in the industry in ways that could "stifle innovation".
He commented, “Hopefully the French or any other country won’t pass laws that are so foolish they force Google to not be able to operate in those countries." This is a reference to he said referring to a French law mandating that Internet companies must retain unencrypted passwords for a year.
He added, “Well-meaning people in government write something which is pretty broad and you have to be careful when you do this kind of regulation. You might affect something and have an unintended consequence. So that is what we are always concerned about.”
Eric Schmidt emphasised that Google's 'Dashboard' service gives users access to all the data the company holds on them and the poeer to delete any or all of the information if they so wish. However, that doesn't mean to say that Google won't start the whole data trawling, collection archiving and manipulation process up again once a user deletes what information is there at any given time.
Mr. Schmidt a was also asked to comment on the revelation that Facebook has hired the expensive PR company Burson-Marsteller to place, anonymously, anti-Google articles and opionion in the media. He ducked the question and advised journalists to “ask Facebook about Facebook” but did say that Google had never done anything similar to get at its competitors and never would.
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