[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.