The amazing quote machine known as Eric Schmidt, former CEO and now Chairman of Google, was at it again this weekend in an interview with the U.K.Guardian on the subject of drones. And while it's no surprise that drones are a subject of interest for one of the most high-profile tech execs on the planet, Schmidt's take on the topic, considering Google's well-known stance on making as much information available to the world as possible, is a bit of a surprise. Apparently, Schmidt believes that the personal use of drones may lead to the widespread invasion of the privacy of citizens.
This from the man leading the charge to bring Google Glass to the masses — a device that, if it becomes popular, will likely lead to every move you make being recorded, algorithmically tagged, and uploaded to Google's cloud. Schmidt outlined his opposition to the widespread personal use of drones by describing a hypothetical scenario:
"You're having a dispute with your neighbor. How would you feel if your neighbor went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their back yard. It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?"
We'd probably feel the same way about that as we'd feel about sitting in our backyard and having that neighbor look across and record us via Google Glass. However, this distinction seems to be lost on Schmidt, who never once brings up the privacy infringing potential of Google Glass.
Interestingly, rather than call for an all out ban on drones, Schmidt indicates that they should primarily be in the hands of government. Schmidt told the paper:
"I'm not going to pass judgment on whether armies should exist, but I would prefer to not spread and democratize the ability to fight war to every single human being… It's got to be regulated… It's one thing for governments, who have some legitimacy in what they're doing, but have other people doing it… It's not going to happen."
If that line of reasoning sounds familiar, it's because you've probably heard it regarding gun ownership in the U.S., a topic that continues to divide politicians and citizens alike. But what makes Schmidt's stance on the issue of drones and privacy seem even more odd is the company's record on privacy in general. Just last month the company was forced to pay a $7 million settlement for violating people's privacy in a number of states via its Street View mapping project. Schmidt's latest comments also fly in the face of one his most famous quotes regarding privacy in which he said, regarding search engines, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."
Similarly, the use of Google Glass in certain situations is already causing concern as a Big Brother-style tool that could completely eliminate the notion of privacy in many settings. So, despite the futurist nature of some of these ideas, Schmidt's somewhat inconsistent view of the future of privacy — and which technologies should be in the public's hands or not — could foreshadow some of the very real and impactful legal debates we'll have to deal with in coming years.