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GOOGLE USERS WORRY ABOUT PERSONAL DATA PRIVACY

Source: eWeek.com

Posted on May 20, 2005

      Gaining access to an ever increasing and ever more sophisticated volume of information through Web searches was an attractive idea to Gartner Inc. Symposium/IT Expo attendees this week who heard Google Inc. CEO Eric Schmidt talk about some of his company's plans for the future.

      But their enthusiasm was tempered by concerns that more personal information or even satellite images that compromised their families' privacy might turn up in future Google searches.

      In an on-stage interview Wednesday at the Gartner Symposium, Schmidt said that Google will continue to experiment with video and audio stream searching and expand its map-linked satellite image search service. He noted that Google has started beta testing a new video and audio service that will allow people to find their favorite shows.

      Google is also continuing with its project to scan and digitally archive the contents of six major research libraries to get the information online, he said. "We hope to expand that over time so that people will have access to the contents of millions more books and documents.

      "We are going to make it harder to get off Google because there is going to be so much more information," he said.

      However, Google is also conscious about the issue of privacy, and it knows it must do no "evil" in conducting business or introducing new search services.

      For example, while its map-linked satellite images may be of sufficient resolution to reveal individual houses, it's not sharp enough let viewers "see your swing set" in the back yard. Schmidt also noted that Google enables individuals to request that Google remove from the search engine's reach selected non-public personal information that finds its way onto the Internet.

      But in general, he said, Google users have shown that they always want access to more information, not less, despite the risk that evil people will find ways to locate and abuse personal information.

      "The value of information so overwhelms its misuse that we have not had material problems" with the abuse of Google's search capabilities, he said.

      Google, he said, is always looking for new search-related services and ways to enhance the existing services.

      The company operates on what Schmidt called the 70-20-10 investment plan. The company spends 70 percent of its research and development on its core search and advertising services; 20 percent on adjacent products like its news and mapping services; and the remaining 10 percent on new ideas that "we don't know what it is yet, but it seems really interesting," he said.

      For Google user Anastasia Saltabida, a strategic planner with Hewlett-Packard Co. in Cupertino, Calif., gaining access to more information is a good thing, as long as it doesn't include personal information about her or her family.

      "I don't want everybody to know so much about me. I want some anonymity for me and my children," Saltabida said.

      "At the same time, I use Google five times a day, and I find it very useful to do a great job of researching information," Saltabida said. She said she likes knowing she can find useful information on any topic that is of interest to her.

      She is also impressed that Google is scanning the contents of libraries. Access to additional information is always useful in her job, which involves research and assisting with product planning and design, she said.

      Another attendee saw little downside to having access to vast libraries of information.

      "The Internet in general has provided a good service to people around the world in terms of having immediate access to information," said Paul Bakutis, CIO with Ahlstrom Corp., a specialty paper company in Windsor Locks, Conn.

      Schmidt "had a pretty exciting message in terms of the whole idea of the power of information" and finding ways for more people to access more information. The concept of putting entire libraries online and "having that information at your fingertips is a good idea," Bakutis said.

      "It's pretty much to everybody's advantage to further refine the idea" and the capabilities of search technology to sort though this immense pool of information, he said.

      Schmidt observed that there is still plenty of room for growth. The human population exceeds 6 billion, "and they all aren't online yet," he said. There is always new information that will move online and more people who want to search for it, he said.

      Google isn't intimidated by growing competition in the search market, Schmidt said. The entry of Microsoft Corp. into the desktop search field and its Microsoft Network and Hotmail offerings don't present intimidating competition.

      While Microsoft is part of the search and e-mail ecosystem, "the biggest competitor is still Yahoo," Schmidt said. In the search field "Microsoft is a new entry, and it remains to be seen how that will play out," he said.

      Google, he said, will continue to do everything to make its search engines run "deeper, faster, better."




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