On Parker Spitzer last night, Kathleen Parker wanted to know if Google CEO Eric Schmidt could quickly find out "what prescription" she filled last week. He can't do that, he said, but he confirmed that Google can quickly rehash a user's search history from "roughly the last year, year and a half." Under a federal court order, Schmidt explained, Google could be (and has been) forced to reveal that information, though that only happens roughly 9,000 times a year. ("You said you keep things for a year, year and a half?" Spitzer asked, just double-checking, perusing his Google search history in his head for a minute.)
Schmidt claims the court order has to be "incredibly narrow" in order for the company to comply with it, so that Google won't be forced to expose everything you've ever searched. He added that Google "rewrites" your search history after a year and a half, so that it can no longer be tracked, even under a court mandate. But, ironically, he wants us to value privacy more than we are. He explained:
"What we learn from this is that privacy is more important, not less important. [The ability to data search] undervalues privacy. Privacy needs to be seen as more important than we're treating it today online. There's a reason why private thoughts were invented by generations before us. The fact that teenagers blog any internal thought now retained on the Internet for the rest of their lives is not a good thing. Society, as a whole, we actually have to think about that. It's not leading to what, in my view, proper facts are."
Perhaps younger Google employees — generally encouraged to keep quiet on these matters, we heard when we attempted to contact them and ask — would disagree. Conventional norms of privacy seem to be willingly forgone if we Google or blog our innermost thoughts, well-aware that this information can be rehashed. Is it now time to tell us how vital privacy is, or is that Schmidt's cop-out to avoid admitting that, thanks largely to sites like his, we're heading toward different definitions of privacy altogether?
Google CEO: What we know [CNN]