Google's Schmidt Puts Both Feet in Mouth, but CNN Removes One of Them [Update]

Last Updated Oct 25, 2010 5:49 PM EDT

Google (GOOG) CEO Eric Schmidt is known for making huge verbal gaffes in interviews, but there were two doozies in his chat on CNN's (TWX) Parker Spitzer show last week. One was of the creepy "we'll do what we want and you can deal with the consequences" genre in which Schmidt excels -- and, apparently, which CNN cut out of the video after having first posted a fuller version. Second was a statement that suggested either Schmidt has virtually no idea of his company's operations, had a moment of blinding "misspeaking," or deliberately misstated something that the company does.

Here's the video of the interview (and the transcript of what is online)


The interview had an exchange about Google Street Views:
During an appearance on CNN's "Parker Spitzer," previewed on CNN.com, the Google chief responded to questions about personal data the company collects, including images of private homes presented on Street View."Street View, we drive exactly once," Schmidt said, referring to the vehicles mounted with cameras sent out to take photos for the service. "So, you can just move, right?" After a brief, subsequent exchange with co-host Kathleen Parker, Schmidt laughed, making it unclear whether the remark was made in jest.
Why quote the WSJ instead of just pointing to the actual moment in the above clip when Schmidt made that remark? Because it's no longer there, as John Paczkowski of All Things Digital noted:
Interestingly, CNN has since edited that quote out of Schmidt's segment. Did Google ask CNN to remove it? Who knows. Perhaps the company has finally realized that Schmidt's penchant for indulging in this sort of pedantic dorkery doesn't do much for its public image.
Or maybe there's a connection between Time Warner (TWX), owner of CNN, and Google. A reader had pointed out the Paczkowski observation to me and also noted that if you use Firefox with an add-on called Ghostery, which shows what web bugs and ad networks are in effect on a given Web page, the Doubleclick DART service, owned by Google, showed as active on CNN.com. I checked and found not only that, but the regular Doubleclick ad network as well as Google AdSense.

Maybe that is all immaterial. After all, they are routine services. However, less routine is that Time Warner's CEO saw Google and Google TV as allies in bringing programming to consumers:
Monday, the company also endorsed the Google TV technology, saying it would optimize some of its television websites, including those of TNT, TBS and CNN, for viewing on TVs carrying Google TV. It said it would do the same with its HBO GO website, through which some viewers who subscribe to the premium cable channel can watch its shows online. The arrangement isn't a business deal.Google is working with several partners to build televisions and boxes carrying its software. Logitech International SA plans to discuss its set-top box running Google's new software Wednesday.
As I've noted before, not all networks are working closely with Google, and some are blocking Google TV. Could it be that CNN felt uncomfortable allowing Schmidt to come across, as Daring Fireball author John Gruber puts it, as "creepy." (I have a call in with CNN for an answer as to why this part was cut. If I get one, I'll post it.)

[Update:Apparently the missing comment was in a clip on CNN.com if not on the show site.


And the comment is definitely in there. For what it's worth, my take is that Schmidt has an ironic sense of humor and this remark was a joke. If only we could say the same thing about the next. And, of course, humor intended or not, given the amount of heat that Google has faced over privacy issues, making such jests is a questionable thing for a CEO to do.]

Next up, during the interview, one of Kathleen Parker's first questions was about privacy:
Google chair and CEO, Eric Schmidt says, "We know where you are, we know where you've been, we can more or less know what you're thinking about." So, I want to know, what do you know about me? Do you know what prescription I filled last week? Do you know -- can you read my e-mail. I have a Gmail account.
Schmidt's answer? " We don't read your Gmail and don't know what prescription you had."

The first half of his answer is the interesting part. Don't read your Gmail? Schmidt either is almost unbelievably unaware of what the company does, had an unexpected mental vacation, or was being deceptive. As I mentioned in another post today, Google makes extensive use of personal information, including Gmail messages, as this quote from a Gmail privacy policy section called "scanning email content" explains:
All email services scan your email. They do this routinely to provide such popular features as spam filtering, virus detection, search, spellchecking, forwarding, auto-responding, flagging urgent mess ages, converting incoming email into cell phone text messages, automatic saving and sorting into folders, converting text URLs to clickable links, and reading messages to the blind. These features are widely accepted, trusted, and used by hundreds of millions of people every day.Google scans the text of Gmail messages in order to filter spam and detect viruses, just as all major webmail services do. Google also uses this scanning technology to deliver targeted text ads and other related information. This is completely automated and involves no humans.

It is important to note that the ads generated by this matching process are dynamically generated each time a message is opened by the user--in other words, Google does not attach particular ads to individual messages or to users' accounts.

When email messages are fully protected from unwanted disclosure, the automatic scanning of email does not amount to a violation of privacy. Neither email content nor any personal information is ever shared with other parties as a result of our ad-targeting process.
The bold was Google's doing. I don't see how anyone, let alone Schmidt, can reconcile not reading email and reading email. Or maybe "reading" and "scanning" are supposed to be different. There was the case of the former Google engineer who allegedly spied on some user accounts, including those of four different minors. But maybe spying is different from reading or scanning.

In any case, official or not, Google does go through users' email and has for a long time. I could see why Schmidt might not want to admit it. After all, it does seem fairly ... creepy.

Related: Image: Courtesy CNN
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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