Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt has hit back against criticism of his company’s practices concerning the use of personal information, and allegations of anti-competitive behaviour. Instead, Schmidt portrays Google as a robust defender of open competition, Internet freedom and user privacy.
Schmidt’s comments, during an audience Q&A chaired by Channel 4 News’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy at the Google Big Tent conference in Watford, came just two days after the European Commission delivered an ultimatum to the company giving it weeks to come up with “remedies” to concerns identified by antitrust investigations. These include using its dominance of the online advertising market to squeeze out rivals, ranking search results from its own services above those from competitors’ services, and repackaging content from third-parties.
On the specific antitrust allegations, Schmidt said he would co-operate fully with the Commission to understand its concerns, but said Google needed specific examples of where and how it had broken the law.
“We’re not aware we’ve done anything wrong, but we’re happy to be educated to the contrary. As far as we can tell, the way we’ve designed Google is pro-competitive and positive for end users. If it’s not then we want to hear why. We want the details,” he said.
The company has also faced privacy questions and investigations in recent years over incidents such as its now defunct social feed service Buzz, which (on initial release) automatically followed existing contacts without users’ express permission. More serious concerns surrounded the revelation that its Streetview mapping project had monitored Wi-Fi connections and gathered sensitive information about users. Questioned about such practices, Schmidt apologised, claiming these were isolated incidents brought about by Google’s innovative and autonomous working culture.
“Google has thousands and thousands of teams and we’re not perfect. These things were either not approved or they were mistakes. The Wi-Fi data-gathering incident was certainly against our principles. When we discovered it we notified the authorities. Over and over again, we are pushing the envelope and occasionally we make mistakes, for which we apologise,” he said.
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