Clarifying a couple points

[Just as a reminder: everything below is my personal opinion. I haven't sent it to anyone else at Google for a review, etc.]

Valleywag used a recent podcast I did as material for two points in Six Delusions of Google’s Arrogant Leaders. The two assertions that used my comments as material were “Google’s wealth means Google ‘gets it’” and “Google must sacrifice user privacy to grow.”

Valleywag has either misinterpreted what I said, or I didn’t express myself clearly, because I don’t believe either of those claims. I’ll try to explain the intent of what I said, in case I wasn’t clear during the podcast. I’ll address the latter claim first (“Google must sacrifice user privacy to grow”), because I certainly don’t believe that “Google must sacrifice user privacy to grow.” I think Google benefits the most when users understand what Google is doing and why; I also think that user trust in Google (and by extension our privacy policies) is paramount to our success.

A good example is our Google Ad Preferences page. As one blog concluded a couple days ago: “Google’s Ad Preference Manager, with its persistent opt-out plug-in, offers precisely the kind of robust opt-out that privacy advocates have always demanded.” And it’s not that we’re shy about talking about privacy; Googlers Alma Whitten and Nicole Wong recently talked privacy for an Ars Technica article that came out earlier this week. It’s a long article, but an example useful fact is that if X is the number of people who visit the Ad Preferences page and opt out, 10X people don’t opt out and 4X people actually edit their categories to improve the targeting relevance of the ads they see. Let me say that again: four times as many people change their settings to make their ads *more* relevant than opt out of interest-based targeting. I think the Ad Preferences page is a good example where users get more transparency and control regarding their privacy.

Another example where Google helps your privacy (rather than sacrificing it) is the Google Dashboard. This is a single site that gives you an overview of what information Google has from various services, and allows you to edit and to manage settings. This is another example where Google is trying to give more information to users, not less. I could point out lots of examples where we try to debunk privacy misconceptions. Where we actively fight for our users’ privacy. Or where we talk about privacy and engage in debates about user privacy. And of course there’s Google’s full privacy center (with videos!) at http://www.google.com/privacy.html . Suffice it to say, I don’t believe that Google “must sacrifice user privacy to grow.”

Okay, what about the other claim that Valleywag used me for: “Google’s wealth means Google ‘gets it’”? Ryan Tate wrote “It’s a truly bizarre moment, in which Cutts defends some horrendous management decisions based on Wall Street trades.” I don’t agree with that either, so let me try to clarify. Eric Schmidt joined the company in 2001. The first time I got to meet Eric was at the weekly TGIF meeting where he was introduced to the wider company. He answered questions for an hour, and I thought his answers were spot on. He was one of the original authors of lex, a well-known Unix utility that I had used in the past, so I knew that he was also a solid engineer and technologist. Schmidt also had experience at large companies (Sun and Novell).

All in all, I was very happy and impressed that Eric was joining Google. When I went home that day, my wife asked what had happened at work. And I replied with something like “I think the value of our stock options just went up a lot.” What I meant by that was that I thought Google had recruited the perfect person to lead the company from start-up to the next level. I still believe that. Eric has been a truly great CEO–and I’m not just saying that because for the last several years he has worked for $1 a year. :) Maybe I didn’t tell the anecdote well or clearly, but my intent was to explain that I think Eric Schmidt has been a great CEO right from the beginning of this decade, not to defend any decisions “based on Wall Street trades.”

If you want to listen to the full podcast, it’s available, but I hope this post helps to clarify.

67 Responses to Clarifying a couple points (Leave a comment)

  1. Matt,
    Thanks for the insight. Even though it’s kinda silly that you have to react to misinterpretations like this, they do provide a nice opportunity to elaborate on things that might not otherwise get much attention. The Ad Preferences stats were particularly interesting to me. Shows a generational shift in consumer comfort if you ask me. The younger you are (generally) the less concerned you are that Google knows what kind of toothpaste you like. We tend to accept it, and look for the associated benefits.

  2. I’m sure you, more than just about anyone else I can think of outside of politics gets scrutinized for what you say because everyone is searching for useful nuggets to the Google algo puzzle. That…and the fact that Google is an easy target. I read the article, hopefully the quick bounce rate was noted:)

  3. It’s good that you’re taking the time to clarify points that you’ve made but terrible that you had to clarify them in the first place (I don’t think it was necessary). One of my pet-hates (not sure if that’s just a British phrase) is people who misconstrue what others’ have said.

    Fortunately, you’ve made your point. Good work.

  4. Matt,

    I think you’re just giving this oxygen – please ignore the lunatic fringe and focus on the genuine concerns of businesses that want to engage with Google and understand how it all “works”…

    Love what you are doing by the way!

    John

  5. Thanks Tim, Rick, Luke, and John. I figured it was better to respond than to let the misunderstanding go without a reply.

    Ron, you’re asking about the situation with Totlol. I don’t know the complete background on Totlol because I work in search quality; the people at YouTube would be more familiar with that situation. But since you asked about those tweets, here’s the story: someone on Twitter asked about http://www.totlol.com/t/story and said “this kind of stuff must make you proud to work for the Borg, no? http://bit.ly/8VQOtw (RIP “Don’t Be Evil”)”. I replied with “@Skitzzo the “smoking gun” was that an email and ToS came on the same day? Not familiar with case, but I wouldn’t jump to conclusions.” As far as an official Google statement, on http://techcrunch.com/2009/12/29/totlol-youtube/ I see that YouTube said “Updates to our API Terms of Service generally take months of preparation and review and are pushed out primarily to better serve our users, partners and developers. When new Terms of Service are ready, we notify our developers through as many channels as possible, including on our developer blog.” Looking around this afternoon, I also found this blog post regarding YouTube’s Terms of Service (TOS): http://apiblog.youtube.com/2010/01/youtubes-apis-and-refresher-on-our.html . But again, I work in search quality and don’t have the expertise to comment on the specific situation of Totlol and YouTube’s terms of service.

  6. Matt, explaining that you think privacy is important or that wealth doesn’t mean that Google ‘gets it’ doesn’t even begin to explain why you said what you did in response to what was being asked. I don’t think this actually clarifies anything.

    In the video, Gina asked you very specifically whether you thought that the privacy problems would have surfaced alot sooner had you gone through a beta phase before linking up the product to Gmail. Your response to that exact issue was that you would inherently trust Eric because you thought he would raise the prices of Google stock when you first met him. It’s not a matter of Ryan being confused, it’s more a patter of there being a complete disconnect with what you were asked and how you answered. Yes, I know she ended the statement with the privacy fubar with Gina stating that it shook her trust in Eric, but she was not at all asking you if you trusted him, and you didn’t answer her concerns at all.

  7. Brian Ussery

    It’s great that you’re “clearing the air” for folks who might believe this article but, I took it as nothing more than extreme sensationalism.

  8. Sorry, what I meant was that Gina said is that what Eric’s reaction and statements made her nervous, and instead of responding about the issue or Google’s plans for this to not happen again you replied the way you did.

  9. Ron

    Matt, thanks for taking the time to reply and echo the formal “when asked if two was a prime number, an unnamed YouTube spokesperson replied that most prime numbers are odd”. The facts are irrefutable. You’ve only seen half the story and even before discussing intranet dory it strongly supports Valleywag’s point of arrogance and then some.

  10. Arul Sundaram

    It’s great to see your response. However, your privacy comments seem to highlight an issue rather than resolve it. It seems telling that Google is taking privacy seriously when it comes to advertising and targeting, but less so when it comes to creating social media. First Google Reader (http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9838017-7.html), now the Google Buzz issues. If there had been similar issues on the ad side, I’d think Google would pay a lot more attention, as it would directly affect the bottom line.

  11. Matt,

    Thank you for this reply and the clarifications.

    It appears that lately everyone is after Google. I have heard the podcast when it was downloaded and I heard Gina’s question and your answer. Call me naive but to me it was (and still is) exactly as you describe it here i.e. that E.Schmidt is an asset to Google hence the value of the company went up.

    People seldom realize that your blog and appearances in ‘This week in Google’ are not what Google’s official position is, hence you become target practice.

    In any case thank you for your openness and efforts to clarify something that shouldn’t have been an issue.

  12. C’mon we both know Google plays lip service to user privacy. The continual opt forced opt in to new products, in many cases without an opt out is pretty much standard operating procedure at the plex.

    Things like only offering web history if you turn on personalization is ludicrous, if the two systems weren’t designed to operate independent of each other then what we have is programming incompetence or a top down policy of putting users needs second, or a combination of the two.

    It’s sad that you have to take the brunt of Google criticism because you are one of the few people who is willing to have an honest dialog.

  13. Whenever someone is on top like Google, they will get criticized. It is too bad they had to go after you as well.

    It is nice to have a “Google Insider” who cares enough to answer criticism and help webmasters who are looking for answers.

    That is very much appreciated.

  14. Nikolaos, thanks. I was trying to defend that Eric gets it, because I do believe that he does, at least based on my experience at the company.

    Michael VanDeMar, a podcast isn’t a debate and I didn’t want to hog the mike to respond to every point. Questioning whether the CEO really “gets it” seemed like a larger point that needed more of a response at the time. Regarding wider non-Googler testing of Buzz, I can certainly see both the pros and cons. For example, I agree testing with outside users may have highlighted several issues earlier. But on the other hand, the odds of the product leaking would have been higher too. Certainly several people studiously look for any information they can find on Google products, down to the point of scouring web code, poring over robots.txt files, or volunteering to translate phrases in hopes of discovering new products before they launch.

    Arul Sundaram, I think many companies have discovered that getting social right can be difficult. The point I was trying to make in the podcast is that I saw the Buzz team listen to outside feedback and iterate very quickly on Buzz in response to concerns, which encouraged me that the Buzz team would solve those issues. If you look at the timeline on (say) Business Insider, the headlines went from “WARNING: Google Buzz Has A Huge Privacy Flaw” on Feb. 10th to “How Google Went Into ‘Code Red’ And Saved Google Buzz” on Feb. 16th, and that second article said “A week after our first complaints, Google has corrected all the privacy flaws that ever concerned us.” I would have preferred that those stories never need to be written in the first place, but I was heartened that the team responded quickly.

    Ron, I’m sorry, but I’m really not the best person to discuss Totlol; the people on the YouTube team are the right people to talk to about their Terms of Service.

    Michael (graywolf), according to this list of milestones, search history and personalized search launched in April and June of 2005. As far as I tell (e.g. this blog post), the idea was always to offer opt-in search history so that (at least in part) personalized search would work well. I wasn’t on the team that worked on this, but the same people were announcing both products for internal testing, for example.

  15. After reading the Gawker article today, I was tempted to write a blog post of my own urging my readers to replace any Google services they use with alternatives, as I had planned to do so myself. The Valleywag article wasn’t that powerful, but it rekindled the angst I felt when Google stuck the frustrating and useless and annoying Buzz into my Gmail account, not giving me a way to drop it without also dropping my Google Profile. I began to fall out of love with Google the day Buzz was dropped on the world.

    This is a huge swing for me, in that I have been such an admirer in the past that I even opened up a Premier Google Docs account even though I didn’t need one (I have a one-man LLC and it works fine with my personal gmail account). I basically wanted Google to have some money for all it had given away free to me and to others. But, when I recently tried to cancel it, I found there is no way to do so. I have to wait out the year’s worth of service and then just not renew.

    I no longer admire Google, or at least not Google management, because it seems like such a self-righteous company. Being confident is good, when it is warranted. Being arrogant is not all bad, especially when it is warranted (as in the case of genius). But self-righteousness always makes me suspicious.

    It’s great that you have attempted to clarify what you said on the podcast (I’ll confess to not having watched the podcast), and, from the comments so far, it looks like you appeased some people and didn’t appease others. I expect the bulk of the comments will be positive because most of your readers, including me, trust you. But nothing you can say or do will cause me to fall back in love with Google again … something has to change in the organization (a good start would be the ability to whack Buzz Easily).

  16. ok if you tell me you need search history for personalized search that makes sense, but the other way around doesn’t.

    Your opinion on the forced opt in for every new google product which has become standard operating procedure for google at this point?

    I get that you’re only responsible for one small part of google, and it’s kind of unfair to make you accountable for everything that goes on at the plex, especially when you aren’t part of that team in most cases. But since no one else on the other teams engage, and some teams like the feedburner team lock themselves in seclusion refusing to acknowledge any criticism, deserved or not, you get beat up on when you don’t deserve it a lot of the time.

  17. Matt, “Google must sacrifice user privacy to grow.”

    This certainly fits your “Link Spam” post where Google is moving away from anonymous spam reports. And you never did clarify why. IMO, you shouldn’t Blog about Google as you definitely have a vested interest in Google on 2 fronts. They pay your wages and you own Google shares, both of which makes you bias.

    Having said that, Google is still the best Search Engine :)

  18. Bruce Keener, sorry to hear that Buzz was such a swing for you. I think Google is a company that’s still filled with a lot of people who believe that Google is trying to change the world and make it better. In many ways, that’s a good thing — I’d much rather work at a company where I felt like that compared to just making money — but it’s also important to be able to admit when we got something wrong. I thought Todd Jackson said it pretty well in this blog post about Buzz when he said “We quickly realized that we didn’t get everything quite right. We’re very sorry for the concern we’ve caused and have been working hard ever since to improve things based on your feedback. We’ll continue to do so.”

    Bruce, if it helps, earlier today, the Buzz team introduced more granular settings to reduce noise in Google Buzz. There’s also this thread, which has some good advice:

    You can turn off Buzz with the “turn off buzz” link at the bottom of the Gmail UI, similar to how you can turn off chat.

    Or you can simply hide the Buzz label in your left navigation panel by dragging it into the “4 more” dropdown.

    graywolf, to me it makes a lot of sense for web history and personalized search to go together, and you can export your search history as an RSS feed if you want to take it somewhere else. You mentioned FeedBurner as not listening to feedback, but I disagree. For example, this time last year a lot of people were complaining about FeedBurner, especially the lag on pings. Not only did a FeedBurner guy do a very long interview to respond, but now FeedBurner supports PubSubHubbub (PuSH) for real-time pings. I did this blog post and PuSH meant that my blog post was tweeted within seconds. From “For various reasons, Feedburner can delay news for minutes or longer” to real-time updates is pretty good in my book. I do take your point that engaging more would be nice, but I don’t think that Google teams lock themselves into seclusion — even if they’re not responding in the blogosphere, a ton of Google properties keep an eye out for feedback and try to incorporate that feedback into future changes.

    Dave (Original), the reason to move away from anonymous spam reports is two-fold. First, the authenticated spam reports were higher quality. Second (and related), since there were no controls on the anonymous spam report form, some people would rig up scripts to submit to that form over and over. In fact, we even saw a few comment spammers (the kind that try to post to every comment box on the web) do a few inadvertent self-spam-reports by spamming that open web form! :) People are still welcome to sign up for a Google account that isn’t tied to their name and submit a spam report that way, but we’re starting to use the data from the open, unauthenticated spam report form less and less.

  19. Hey Matt, Ryan from Gawker/Valleywag here. I appreciate your replying so specifically, but I do feel like this is a bit of case of someone from Google saying “people are just confused” when in fact there is some smoke and fire. Like Michael VanDeMar in the comments above, I found it strange you responded to a question about Buzz privacy and Eric Schmidt’s handling of the Buzz controversy by immediately — and it was the first thing you talked about, to much teasing from your co-hosts, which I edited out — launching into a discussion about how little your Google stock was worth when you joined and how much it is worth now that Schmidt has been running things, as though the delta in stock price means Schmidt is a good communicator.

    You actually talked about your stock twice in the podcast, once at the beginning of your comments excerpt and once later.

    Setting aside whether Eric is a good communicator or not, and however well he answered employee questions at TGI Fridays, the price of the stock is orthogonal to those issues. And that is the point I was trying to make — company wealth is an orthogonal issue and yet it gets treated by both you and Eric (on the conference calls I quoted) as though it were relevant in other contexts. In your case the stock price was invoked (twice!) w/regard to Schmidt’s communication skills and Buzz privacy. And in the conference call Schmidt invoked profits as a good sign for the company’s future even though the company is supposedly primarily on a mission about information and there’s little evidence profits have led to innovation at Google.

    On the privacy delusion, I was primarily referring to Jryi’s comments and to Google’s concrete real-world behavior. I included your comments to illustrate some of the thinking behind it, not to say you personally agreed.

    I am late for dinner but again I appreciate your response and think more talk around this issue is only a good thing. Hopefully the dialog can continue.

  20. Ryan, thanks for stopping by. I did choose to defend Eric before talking about Buzz, but I think that was a reasonable choice given limited time (if someone doesn’t trust the CEO, that can affect their opinion of all Google products, not just Buzz). If I chose poorly in telling the “stock option” anecdote about when Eric joined Google, then that’s my mistake. What I was trying to communicate was only that in my experience Eric has been a great CEO for Google, including from my earliest experiences with him.

  21. Matt, Thank you for the additional information on Buzz.

    I do think the Google senior leadership team needs to seriously digest the Gawker article, especially with regard to the perception of self-righteousness (which is when a person or group behaves as if they are the determiners of what is right and wrong, sometimes setting aside accepted norms, thereby making them untrustworthy).

  22. Karl Rossmann

    Matt, it seems to me that Google only smiles and defends itself or changes its position when you get caught. How many years did you censor information in China before getting caught then feigning indignation? 5 years? 10 years? How much did you make? 10 billion? 20 billion? Suddenly, you’re outraged? When did you start collecting people’s searches with opt-out? 5 years ago? 7? Opt-out is a joke, and you’re being disingenuous by standing behind it as a fake seal of pro-privacy. You know very well that 99% of your users don’t know what it means and don’t realize you’re storing their searches. If you had refused to comply with China’s censorship and had made private data collection opt-in from the get-go, that would be one thing, but you’re weaseling out of some horrible practices and ignoring your history. MAKE ALL DATA COLLECTION OPT-IN and LEAVE CHINA and you’ll have my respect, otherwise you’re just being a politician. And I really doubt you believe what you’re saying by defending these practices.

  23. Anyone who has had the chance to talk with you (or even just keep up with your social stream) knows that the Valleywag assertions are … bunk.

    One might be able to quibble with the implementation of some of the privacy features, but I believe they’ve maintained the spirit of privacy. Beyond that, you shouldn’t have to answer for all of Google, nor should you feel compelled to respond to this type of attack. (It’s nice that you do, but I’m sure it wears thin quickly.)

  24. Ignacio Zendejas

    Matt, can you please address when the Google Dashboard was made available after you’ve been caching people’s searches and why everything is opt-in by default? Forget, Google Buzz (that was complete disaster on so many levels), I’m talking about people’s search history. The average person doesn’t read the tech news as much as one thinks–let alone even knows what a browser is–so I do believe you’re indeed sacrificing people’s privacy to potentially serve better search results and better ads–and you guys run on ads. I’m all about personalization and believe it’s great that you guys are trying to offer better ads, better search results, better youtube recommendations, etc, however, but I believe in personalization when a person is fully aware of what that entails.

    You guys are certainly not the only ones playing with fire, but because you do try (or “try” depending one’s point of view) to be transparent and because you do know a lot*, I hope you guys can invest more on privacy and take the heat.

    Have you done any usability testing on how easy it is to get to the dashboard? I hope so.

    Also, now that you’ve made the dashboard available, please force a login, and like Mint ask people to also use a pin number.

    Thanks.

  25. Ignacio Zendejas

    Whoops, didn’t read your responses to graywolf. That said, there are still a few questions in there that would be great to obtain answers to, like whether or not there’s been an effort to make the dashboard easier to get to. And please make everything opt-out by default. Many people think search and personalization go together, but that doesn’t mean everyone should–so don’t shove it down people’s throats.

  26. Tau-Mu Yi

    It is too bad that you have to respond to sensational low-quality gossip from Valleywag. The article is replete with inaccuracies, cheapshots, and comments taken out of context. One down side of web 2.0, is that some online “journalists” will say almost anything to drive views to their pages.

    Google offers incredibly valuable services to hundreds of millions of people every day for “essentially” free. If profit was their sole motive, Google could easily squeeze out more money from their services; they choose not to from a combination of an interesting long-run business vision and the ethos of “Don’t be Evil.” This is quite unique in the annals of corporate history to say the least.

    Comparing Google to Microsoft is simply ridiculous. Just think about why the heck Microsoft created docx.

  27. Hey Matt – don’t worry too much about Valleywag.
    You are not the first and certainly not the last person that they take the words and changes them in 180 degrees (more or less).
    I guess that it’s part of life… they want to be ‘bold’ and points that are easy to flam about are always good sources for discussions/traffic/links etc’.

  28. Matt, thanks for replying, but what if a person wishes to remain anonymous? I think they should retain that right. Especially as you are defending Google on privacy.

    RE: “since there were no controls on the anonymous spam report form, some people would rig up scripts to submit to that form over and over.”

    Come on Matt, that’s a feeble excuse. Ever heard of CAPTCHAS?

  29. Ron

    > Ron, I’m sorry, but I’m really not the best person to discuss Totlol;
    Then maybe you shouldn’t have jumped-the-tweet doubting what there was no doubt about?

    > the people on the YouTube team are the right people to talk to about their Terms of Service.
    You know it ain’t so. It is your legal team hiding there in the shadows. The dory stuff, that has lawyers all over it too.

  30. Firstly i am with Matt. I really love google becouse, people have grown acostumed to things in internet being free and fast.
    You don´t like something like buzz ok, but you can´t blame that in exchange for google search, analytics, webmaster tools, youtube, feedburner, gmail etc…
    All free tools by google that work superb and that most of you are using free.

    I see what google tried with buzz, an atemp to compete in the “social market” with facebook and twitter…

    I have way more companies and politicians and things to blame in the world than shouting against every little mistake google makes.

  31. “Matt, thanks for replying, but what if a person wishes to remain anonymous?”

    Dave (Original), I believe you’re talking about remaining anonymous while doing spam reports? As I said before, people are still welcome to sign up for a Google account that isn’t tied to their normal account and submit a spam report that way. Since you’re interested, the original spam report form went up in November of 2001 and the infrastructure underneath it is also getting pretty ancient. We made a choice that rather than revamping the old form, we’d go with the authenticated spam report form, especially since a) we were getting better spam reports from the authenticated form, b) the infrastructure for the authenticated spam report form is newer and better supported, and c) people can still do a spam report by signing up for a different Google account if they wish to remain anonymous. Hope that makes sense.

    “I hope you guys can invest more on privacy and take the heat.” Ignacio Zendejas, I think Google has invested more on privacy than most other companies. I’m not aware of any advertising company that has done as much on the Google Ad Preferences page (e.g. to the point of writing a browser extension to opt-out of ads even when people flush cookies). The Dashboard page is also pretty rare in terms of bringing information into one spot. Earlier this year we also flipped on default HTTPS for Gmail too. I’m not aware of any other major webmail provider offering HTTPS after login authentication, let alone turning HTTPS on for every Gmail user by default. It takes a major investment to offer HTTPS by default, and it only costs money — it doesn’t generate any revenue for Google.

    Ron, I don’t know whether the YouTube folks or the legal team is the right place to ask about Totlol, but I’m sure that I’m not the right person to ask about Totlol.

  32. Hi, Matt:

    If you can independently criticize Eric more than give a high song, Google and Eric can have a better future.

    NO one is perfect. Any one or any company can be buried finally by high songs and long applause.

    regards,

    author wanglili

  33. Ron

    > I’m not the right person to ask about Totlol.
    I wasn’t asking, I was just clarifying a point about arrogance.
    OT: anyone honest here: http://blogoscoped.com/employees/

  34. Thanks, Matt. 1 last question. How can a spam report be considered “authenticated” if it’s tied to a fake and anonymous account?

  35. Alexander

    Thanks for the links. I opted out of everything I possibly could.

    I think the language “sacrificing privacy” obscures a very essential truth. Google has to be interested in knowing as much as possible about me and be as free as possible to make use of that knowledge. Denying this would be disingenuous and I hope that’s not what you are attempting to do. Since I want Google to know as little as possible about me, our respective interests diverge, putting me in a situation where I have to distrust you by default, which is not a good basis for any type of relationship.

    I like the services Google provides and I want to pay for them. Please give me a way to pay for them outside of the ad based business model you are currently using so our interests are better aligned.

    You may ask why I wish Google to know as little as possible about me. It’s because Google is not a close personal friend of mine. Google is not my lover. Yet Google has access to information that I want to reserve for close personal friends and lovers. Google is also a competitor of mine, and I do not wish my competitors to know my business strategy or my financial situation.

  36. “How can a spam report be considered “authenticated” if it’s tied to a fake and anonymous account?” Because you have to log in with a Google account, so someone can’t just write a script to auto-stuff a open text area on the web and submit it.

    “I opted out of everything I possibly could.” That’s fine by me, Alexander. You might want to explore Chrome or Chromium’s Incognito mode (or the private browsing modes of Firefox or IE)–that’s a good way to surf with enhanced privacy, because I believe that will automatically flush your cookies for you when you quit the browser. There’s also Tor to do onion routing if you prefer even more anonymity on the web. And at least for me personally, I definitely support the idea of offering paid services for people that don’t want ads with their searches.

  37. guser

    wait, what does any of this have to do with webspam?

    matt, you may want to rethink your answer to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfg9b6ek3z8 :)

  38. Matt, I understand your position on the SPAM reports, it makes perfect sense to try and reduce the automated reports. But, if we consider Eric’s position on privacy then shouldn’t all of the SPAM reports be made public for all of us to see, including the submitters name and IP address? After all, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” ;)
    I prefer the open SPAM reports like Aaron and others have provided about Mahalo.

  39. Mr. Karl Rossmann > Question here: Why do you insist on asking Matt something that you should have been asking Google. The point is that Matt’s ideas are his own and not Google’s.

    I am personally tired of looking Matt defending himself for something that Google does and people do not like.

    /vent_off

  40. I watched that Internet radio show live and now re-listed to the snippet Gawker published.. I think the Gawker re-interpretation is ridiculous. A real stretch, and probably a troll attempt to draw Matt into the conversation. It’s overly gracious of Matt to address the article at all… at best. He’s not the right Googler to address the Buzz issues anyway.

    Fire away at Schmidt…

  41. Hi Matt,

    Did your experience at the NSA impact those comments?
    I mean the NSA sacrifices people’s privacy all the time for the sake of national security.

    If you doubt that, consider Mark Klien, the AT&T employee who blew the whistle on the NSA, letting the public know that the NSA is copying all internet traffic in the United States.

    You may want to consider that your experience working for the NSA makes people very nervous about what you say, in your position at Google.

  42. Christopher, if anything, I believe the time I spent as a college student in the Dept. of Defense back in the early 90s gave me a better appreciation of issues relating to privacy.

    guser, this post had nothing to do with webspam, but that’s okay; this is my personal blog. I posted because someone used my name to make a claim, and I disagreed with the way my remarks were interpreted and wanted to clarify my feelings on the subject.

  43. Matt you had better hope you dont get interviewd by a propper journalist like Paxman not aswering Ginas question by usinga non related anacdote – will get you in trouble.

    and 1$ salary thats a well known tax dodge to avoid paying income tax and for some one of Erics wealth it is sickening just like the MP’s in the UK abusing the expenses system or the heads of the auto companys flying to DC is separate private jets.

    If I was a share holder I would be asking some serious questions about how the company is being run how many for Gerald Ratner quotes is Eric going to come out with before he gets fired? and can you please pay out some of myN/b> money in divideds instead of launching yet another half assed service

  44. Ignacio Zendejas

    Alright, I want to be clear: by opt-in by default I meant that people are “opted in” by default by Google in most cases without being aware of it (a la Facebook). Technically, the better way to say it is that Google uses opt-out by default preference. This is what I argue is bad for storing web search history, among other things. And this question, asked by others, was not directly addressed.

    Having said that, here’s a problem:
    “four times as many people change their settings to make their ads *more* relevant than opt out of interest-based targeting.”

    This is a statistically useless statement. Is this a good sample of the population? By using the statement above, you can argue that most people would be inconvenienced if they had to opt in, but it’s not clear that it is statistically true unless you back it up. The lamer such statements get, the more one becomes suspicious of Google–especially after your “don’t be evil mantra.” But I get it, that’s not the same as saying “do no evil.”

    I don’t even want to bother talking about Facebook, ad pests, etc because I know someone will offer true personalization without shoving it down people’s throats for the sake of cash. When someone does (and someone will) they will make people think about what Facebook, Google, and others are doing with their data. And they will realize, that’s not the best model for them and will lose trust in the Facebooks, Googles, etc.

  45. By the way, if you’ve made it this far into the comments, check out this article where the Buzz folks talked at South by Southwest earlier today:

    Google Product Manager Todd Jackson said that Google had learned a lot from the incident, acknowledging that Google was in error when it made the assumption that users wanted to move their email and chat contacts over to their Buzz social graph, and auto-followed them. To make sure that kind of blunder doesn’t happen again, he revealed that Google may start pre-releasing new Buzz features to small subsets of users.

  46. Ignacio Zendejas, in general, we work hard to make sure that our users are informed, and lots of products (Wave, Google Voice, Chrome, Android) require people to deliberately seek out that product or even get invites.

    So I wouldn’t say that Google always pursues a strategy of automatically opting-in users. One of the first products we offered, the Google Toolbar, required a deliberate opt-in choice from users to enable advanced features such as the PageRank display. In fact, it said in big red capital letters (click here for the dialog): PLEASE READ THIS CAREFULLY IT’S NOT THE USUAL YADA YADA. Compare that to the fact that Internet Explorer 8 has a feature called “Suggested Sites” that will send every url you visit (possibly including every Google search you do) to Microsoft. In my opinion, Google’s disclosure for advanced features on the Google Toolbar is much more clear than the disclosure that Microsoft shows when you install Internet Explorer 8.

    In fact, I happened to take a screenshot when my Windows XP machine updated to IE8. Here’s the feature:

    Internet Explorer 8 Suggested Sites

    Now where in that screen does it mention “By the way, if you enable this feature, Microsoft reserves the right to see every url that you visit, including on other search engines such as Google and Yahoo, including the actual search terms that you typed.“? You have to dig down to the bottom of this Internet Explorer 8 Privacy Statement to find this information:

    When Suggested Sites is turned on, the addresses of websites you visit are sent to Microsoft, together with standard computer information. To help protect your privacy, the information is encrypted when sent to Microsoft. Information associated with the web address, such as search terms or data you entered in forms might be included. For example, if you visited the Microsoft.com search website at http://search.microsoft.com and entered “Seattle” as the search term, the full address http://search.microsoft.com/results.aspx?q=Seattle&qsc0=0&FORM=QBMH1&mkt=en-US will be sent. Address strings might unintentionally contain personal information, but this information, like the other information sent, is not used to identify, contact or target advertising to you. In addition, Microsoft filters address strings to try to remove personal information where possible.

    Statistics about your usage of Suggested Sites will also be sent to Microsoft such as the time that websites were visited, which website referred you, and how you got there (e.g., by clicking a link or one of your Favorites). A unique identifier generated by Internet Explorer is also sent. The unique identifier is a randomly generated number that does not contain any personal information and is not used to identify you. If you delete your browsing history or if you turn Suggested Sites off and back on again, a new unique identifier will be created. There is no way to correlate an old unique identifier with a new one. This information, along with the website addresses and past history, will be used to personalize your experience, as well as improve the quality of our products and services.

    So if you turn on the Suggested Sites feature of Internet Explorer 8, Microsoft reserves the right to send every Google search you do and every result you click on straight back to Microsoft, and to use your searches and click information on any of their products, including Bing. To me, the ambiguity of the IE8 screenshot above is much more troubling to me than anything Google has done.

  47. RE: Because you have to log in with a Google account, so someone can’t just write a script to auto-stuff a open text area on the web and submit it.

    Sorry Matt, I don’t believe a company like Google could not develop a CAPTCHA to stop people writing scripts for spam reports. There is more to this than you are letting on.

  48. Ignacio Zendejas

    Matt, you’re right about Microsoft and like I said, what other companies are doing is irrelvant to this discussion. I’ll gladly have this same conversation with anyone at Microsoft if only they had the… to face up to questions like you or if I knew who they were.

    The trade-off between privacy and convenience (personalization) should be made by the user, always… not just sometimes. And people may be seeking your products, but they’re not fully aware of what Google is doing–again, you’re missing the point. I go to malls and I know I’m being recorded.

    Google, Facebook and all are using the boiling frog method here… slowly, slowly turning up the heat and people won’t freak out… like this:
    * Android/mobile phones
    – local search, map search = you know where one’s been, where we live, work, etc.

    * Google search
    – you know what we’re looking for, doing
    * Gmail, gtalk, google voice, wave, and now buzz…
    – you know how we talk to and what we talk about
    * Google desktop
    – you index our files (what do you do with these?)
    * Google health
    – this is a horrible idea! and it will backfire if anyone’s dumb enough to organize their health data with you guys, or with any other company, out in the tubes.
    * Web history, etc…

    I’m not against all these services and I look forward to a future when the right company that doesn’t collect my data without my knowledge (I know it happens now*) is able to offer better ads… hell, can read my mind, but I have to be fully in control. Everyone has to be in complete control. Not knowing what a web browser is should be evidence enough that they’re not in control that they don’t even know what a cookie is, what “incognito” mode is, etc.

    But others are doing it, and you have to compete, so you must do it too? My point is… if Google wants to win, they’ll do it the right way. If you continue down this path, Google will lose the public’s trust. PERIOD. And what will that do to your stock?

  49. Stay strong, Matt. I read the Valleywag article and it was 90% garbage gossip — just someone’s rant. It belonged on City Rag, not Valleywag.

    Google makes some mistakes, but they continue to offer me more choice than other similarly sized companies have in the past, including over privacy issues. I just turn off the stuff I don’t want and delete all cookies every time I close a browser. If I want to do an anonymous search, I do it before I log in to anything or from another browser.

  50. If I chose poorly in telling the “stock option” anecdote about when Eric joined Google, then that’s my mistake.

    I think that’s it, in a nutshell.

    That, and (as far as privacy advocates/extremists*) are concerned, your poor choice reflects and perhaps stems from a paradigm shift in attitudes towards privacy within Google. You’re probably not best placed to answer such charges, but FWIW I find your response quite genuine.

    *Delete as applicable

  51. Matt, thank you for spending so much time to answer all these comments and keep them opened. This proves that you “care” about others opinion and is trying to be as much honest and clear as possible. But sometimes, I believe there are some comments only used to make some publicity noise and doesn’t deserve replies. Mine here doesn’t need to be replied out neither, it is just to put one more positive word on what Google is doing and I believe you continue being the right guy to communicate with us (end users). Thank you for being so opened like that. I am sure these privacy concerns from the users will be well addressed and Google will give to us the ultimate response and period. Who likes it, likes it, who doesn’t uses Bing and be happy with its choice. No one is being forced to use Google products and that’s all. I started following you when you started sharing your “no-M$” user experience and I wanted to see how that could be possible. Because of the Internet democracy, we can be free and chose what we prefer. Keep up the good, open and honest communication.
    Alex.

  52. Paul

    For me Ignacio Zendejas’ March 15, 2010 at 12:19 am comment says it all.
    I’ve been a big fan of Google all these years and Goggle provides a huge amount of useful services to me. But I’ve been drawn in and in, and luckily the Buzz debacle gave me the kicking I needed to re-assess what I was doing and how.
    Google is better and probably more open than the likes of MS but because their services are so encompassing then they do have a complete picture of everything you do online.
    I’d feel a lot happier if I could spread my custom around but unfortunately the competition is still very weak in most topic areas.
    So I continue to use Google but I’d still like more, easier control over what Google stores about me and how it uses it. The dashboard is a start but most users don’t know about it.
    To be honest Matt IMHO I think you’ve got into areas here that maybe you should have kept away from. It’s not personal because you have become a major “voice” for Google.

  53. Privacy for the most part, is still dead, despite your claims above. Google has basically become the Graystone Corporation, you just haven’t realized that yet. Let me know when you guys buy a football team….

  54. Mike Hearn

    Dave, CAPTCHAs sadly don’t always stop spammers posting garbage to forms. Take a look at the prices on decaptcher.com for why. There are people in the world who will solve thousands of CAPTCHAs for nearly nothing.

    If Matt says, “this is easier and works better” I’m not sure why it’s so hard to believe.

  55. When I first read the “article” at Gawker I already felt that this wasn’t the typical language we are used from you Matt and I am happy that you clarified this here. So people who rely on Google or other Search Engines to find out the truth (or background informations) will find your clarification.

    I am writing from Germany which is known for some intense privacy discussions, but I couldn’t find a single case where privacy was violated through the roll out of Google Buzz.

    And you can be sure if there was a single incident our mass media would have published it, too. I think there are two main reasons why Buzz didn’t had a bad impact on privacy at all:

    a) Google users are more technically advanced than the typcial user of mass media (those folks still rely on mail services they get through their ISP, Phone Company etc.). They are used to control what they share and to edit settings of the various services. The early Buzz Community helped new buzz users with advice how to change settings and the Buzz Team itself helped a lot too. If you look at the scale of this roll out it was almost too calm and disciplined.

    b) A service that is deeply connected with your Mail provider has some abuse prevention built in – the typical spammer and stalker doesn’t want to mess with Google.

    Google Buzz is not save for -idiots- mentally challenged people who don’t know what they do, maybe Google should offer a SECURE-GOOGLE where you can’t do anything wrong even if you try very hard.

  56. Mike, what is to stop someone writing a script to create 100′s of fake Google accounts? You might believe Googles only option was to link spam reports to fake and anonymous accounts, but my cynical mind doesn’t :) Google can surely thwart auto scripts in their tracks while the genuine reporter can maintain anonymity.

  57. Tim Wintle

    Slightly at a tangent, I’m actually in the middle of writing a FLEX scanner as I read this post – had no idea that Eric Schmidt had been one of the original LEX authors :-)

    Have to say that’s far more encouraging to me than knowing he worked on Java… but perhaps that’s showing my language preferences a bit too much.

    Back to your point – I think you’re spot on that it’s a question about thorough testing – and it sounds like it should have had more time – but I also agree that the average internet user would probably have complained if it was in closed beta first, it’s a tough call.

  58. There is always going to be slanted criticism. We users and website optimizers have benefited from the innovations offered by Google but it’s the nature of the beast to find fault and be wary. Thanks for taking the time to answer your detractors. It’s always nice to at least know someone cares!

  59. It is interesting that Gawker is unranked while Alexa has it up there and reports over 12K in bound links. My own site had a 2/10 that went away overnight. And, Robert Cringely’s latest blog asks, “Is There a Google News Blacklist?”

    The government comparison seems telling in both directions. Maybe your algorithms and the nanny laws of congress aren’t too far apart.

  60. Yuhong Bao

    “Ron, I’m sorry, but I’m really not the best person to discuss Totlol; the people on the YouTube team are the right people to talk to about their Terms of Service.“
    I read that some YouTube Product Managers are on Google Buzz, such as Hunter Walk. Maybe you can contact them.

  61. You don’t need to clarify anything Matt as no matter what you say some press will still show the negative side of Google. Remember what Martin Bashir did to Michael Jackson. But I just believe that “Even negative press is good press” so long as you are in the press.

  62. Hello,
    First off I would like to say that the following is my personal only. I’m not taking sides here(I don’t like that), I’m just saying the facts as I see them.
    I think that there isn’t a company out there that can guarantee you ‘okay, we have your private info and we won’t share it with anybody’; like there probably isn’t a bank out there that can assure you your money is 100% safe with them. There are companies who probably respect the privacy of their users more than others do. I couldn’t actually point fingers saying that one company did not respect my privacy and shared my info with the world or they did that to another person. To be perfectly honest I didn’t actually read all there is about privacy policies and such, and let’s face it who actually takes time to read it all?
    In my opinion Google offers a lot of great tools and services for free, unlike others who sell you products and the quality of that product is questionable. They post a lot of articles, video tutorials and conferences. I think that they’re doing an amazing job for the community.
    I have a question for the users who visit your blog and in particular this blog post of course: Do you think that all the social networking website that you are a part of and share very detailed and personal information, can actually guarantee that they will protect/not share your information no matter what? I don’t think so.
    While you’re connected to the Internet you’re never safe. (No, really, I’m not even being paranoid about it).

    Good day.

  63. Matt,

    I dont want to get involved in the rights and wrongs of what Google are doing – as the organisation you work for is so huge, inevitably there will be a distinct sector of humanity who will kick against it. I am not one of those people.

    However, it is clear to one and all that at some point over the last week or so Google reframed your search algorythms. The result for me has taken my site about solar power for homes from number one or numbre two (where it has been for over a year now) to number 11 or 12.

    What has replaced my site? All sites that pay Google money for adsense.

    Clearly you are gaming the system – promoting your own traffic buyers through Adwords ahead of people who are working hard to deliver genuine value to our audience.

    In this regard, I do not side with you or your organisation. You should come up with more ingenious ways to increase your $11billion per year revenue rather than adjust the ORGANIC search area of your pages to favour those who give you the most money.

    I implore you to change this approach for the sake of democracy and freedom of speech if nothing else.

    Yours

    Sam Deane

  64. Thanks for the posts.. I don’t like the google’s way though.. Next thing is they can track you down, not area located, but fully. So ads of companies will show up from like 2 blocks further in the the street..

    Thanks for your post!

  65. George Andrews

    I notice that Matt avoided one repeated question. Why is the default opt-in? If Google cares so much about privacy, why auto insert us and make us have to opt out? Why not let those who want to opt-in?

    Google will probably respond with something about convenience to the user but we know that is bunk. The reason is because they know that if the default is opt-out, more people will not opt-in because it is inconvenient, than would voluntarily opt-in if the default was opt-out. Google crows that 4 times as many people reduced their privacy as opted-out with Buzz. If this is true, there is no reason why opt-in should be the default.

    I remember when Yahoo was King. Then they started doing silly things like having ads swim accross your screen blocking your view. Ads where the “X” to close the ad was tiny and hidden. They got greedy and look what has happened to them. The same will happen with Google if they continue to give in to their greed. Google used to be a great company. Looks like that is changing.

    The love of money……corrupts absolutely,
    George Andrews

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