Preston Gralla

Schmidt offers Google's most chilling Big Brother scenario yet

August 16, 2010 4:55 PM EDT
Plenty of people have worried that because of the amount of information Google knows about people, it could become an Orwellian Big Brother. Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently took a look at Google's future, and it's more Big Brotherish than you can imagine. How about Google knowing what you think before you do yourself? That's in the cards, Schmidt believes.

Schmidt was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal this past weekend, and the interview was a wide ranging one, from the success of Android, to Google's controversial stand on net neutrality, and beyond.

Most interesting, though, and most frightening, was Schmidt's vision of the future of Google's search capabilities. The interviewer notes that one day the Google search box will "no longer will be at the center of our online lives." The interviewer then asks Schmidt how Google will respond to that. Schmidt's answer starts off thoughtful, and ends up chilling:

"We're trying to figure out what the future of search is. I mean that in a positive way. We're still happy to be in search, believe me. But one idea is that more and more searches are done on your behalf without you needing to type.

"I actually think most people don't want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next."
I don't know about you, but the last thing in the world I want Google to do is to tell me what I should be doing next. I'm perfectly capable of doing that by myself. Just the idea that Schmidt believes Google will be able to gather enough information about you --- including where you are right now, and what you've been doing for the last several hours --- is frightening enough. But the thought that he believes that Google could then figure out what you want to do next, before you yourself know, is far more frightening still.

Lest you think that Schmidt is somehow being misunderstood, he elaborates on his answer. Here's what the Wall Street Journal reports:

Let's say you're walking down the street. Because of the info Google has collected about you, "we know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are." Google also knows, to within a foot, where you are. Mr. Schmidt leaves it to a listener to imagine the possibilities: If you need milk and there's a place nearby to get milk, Google will remind you to get milk. It will tell you a store ahead has a collection of horse-racing posters, that a 19th-century murder you've been reading about took place on the next block.
George Orwell's dystopic imagination in 1984 couldn't ever venture this far. He imagined a government knowing everything about you. Even he didn't see that it might be private industry one should instead be scared of.