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Eric Schmidt on Name Changing and Privacy



Google’s honcho, Eric Schmidt, says that in the future young people should be entitled to change their name to avoid having to deal with mistakes or foolishness they may have made in their “cyber past.” He says “I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time.”

It seems to me there is an obvious flaw in that logic. If everything is knowable and recorded, it would be simple search to follow anyone’s cyber past by tracking a name change. But set that aside. Schmidt’s comments follow those by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook that we all need to be more transparent and this will erase our fears and apprehensions about privacy concerns. Both tell an important story.

These heads of big data collectors obviously know just how much data is being collected and will be collected moving forward and both realize just how much impact that can have. I agree with Schmidt that we probably don’t realize the impact that this will have and probably aren’t ready for it. Human history is filled with those sorts of stories, where the consequences of our actions later come under a different scrutiny as time passes. Sooner or later I would imagine this will become a bigger social, cultural, and political issue and that will probably be caused by some big event or incident that exposes someone in some way that is hurtful or some level.

With shopping sites, social networks, and location services working to tell us where we are at any given moment and push info to us, or as Schmidt says “tell us what to do next” who knows where this will all head. Maybe the real money to be made in all of this is a social service that tells you not to update your status that way or upload that embarrassing picture of your drunken bender.



  1. Osiris

    08/18/2010 at 7:09 am

    It would be tough to be a teenager these days and avoid your foolish teen antics or less than flattering (potentially drunk etc) pics showing up on someones facebook. Just sitting there….waiting. Thats just one example, countless others no doubt.

  2. aftermath

    08/18/2010 at 7:52 am

    I lol’d.

    This is the guy who says his company can has the computer vision technology to recognize anybody in a photo with just a handful of images as a training set. They just don’t no if they should “switch on the feature” yet. I’ve published research in that field, and I believe his claims.

    Of course he doesn’t care if you change your name, your name is about to mean nothing. This is the new Google, the Google that says “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”. They’re on your side young America. Go out and do dumb and irresponsible things with your life, and Uncle Google will protect you.

    You’re a fool if you take to heart what a big company like Google says. Every healthy relationship has a healthy quantity of skepticism (not to be mistaken with mistrust). You should even be skeptical of what I’m saying right now. Communication happens in the conceptual realm, but don’t get distracted or ignore the only thing that matters: the real world. Look at what Google does and what Google COULD DO give their role in your life and/or the lives of people around you that you depend on. Last time I checked, Google is a company that answers to shareholders, and those shareholders care about money. I don’t see your best interest in that equation, and, to the extent that it does factor, it appears mutable whenever it stands to compromise money.

    I can see a day coming where people start blaming beloved companies like Google and Apple for leveraging the positions of power that people voluntarily invite those companies to occupy in their lives. Such situations remind me of advice that was given to me when I was a graduate student by the parents of an extremely wealthy person: “You blame money, when in reality you reject the responsibility for becoming dependent on something which we know to be flawed.” That statement changed my life. You can swap out “money” for all kinds of thing: electricity, a spouse, any number of companies, etc.

  3. Paul Harrigan

    08/18/2010 at 8:36 am

    What we really need is a new set of privacy laws that make it illegal to post a person’s history connected with their name — a kind of “right of publicity” that extends what California uses already to allow actors and other entertainment types to capitalize on their publicity.

    • Xavier Lanier

      08/18/2010 at 8:59 am

      Not going to happen, at least in the U.S. There are almost no restrictions on taking photos of people in public and publishing them. And there are almost no limits on free speech. Not that I agree with the practice, but most people are unaware that courts have upheld it’s perfectly legal to take photos from a sidewalk or private property using a mild telephoto (200-300mm I believe) lens. The reasoning is that if you drop your expectation of privacy by letting one stranger walking by see something, there’s no expectation of privacy at all. The mild telephoto lens approximates what you can see clearly with your naked eye and dates back to a guy shooting photos of a neighbor sunbathing nude in her backyard. Since she was out in front of dozen’s of neighbors’ windows she didn’t have any expectation of privacy according to the courts.

      Even very sensitive photos aren’t immune to being published. Once you’re out in the open, things can be really rough. Here’s an example:

      Even when you’re on private property things can get dicey. Say you’re at a large party, a bar (or a more shady establishment), acting like a fool in front of a bunch of strangers- and someone busts out a camera- you can’t do anything from having those pics published.

      As long as you’re in public, it’s perfectly legal for people to snap photos or video of you, even without your knowledge. The only thing you’re generally shielded from is audio recording without your knowledge. That’s why surveillance videos are typically silent.

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