Google CEO's social media warning; Impending information armageddon?

Google CEO's social media warning; Impending information armageddon?

Summary: Google CEO Eric Schmidt warns of the consequences of social media and networks, and the vast amount of personal data that users put out there on the Web. Is privacy dead?


In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Google CEO Eric Schmidt warns of the future consequences of social media and networks, and the vast amount of personal data that users put out there on the Web.

"I don't believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time," he says. He predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends' social media sites.

"I mean we really have to think about these things as a society," he adds. "I'm not even talking about the really terrible stuff, terrorism and access to evil things," he says.

He even suggested that today's younger generation should consider changing their names in later life to escape their past online misgivings. That's hardly a means to an end. Surely proactively encouraging the education of online privacy instead of suggesting a deed poll on your graduation day?

This is something I have harped on about many of times before, and privacy watchdogs are constantly filling the news of data privacy awareness campaigns and asking those to consider the consequences of identity fraud and suchlike.

Who is to blame?

It boils down to (forgive the pun) the chicken or the egg. One could argue the point of who's fault it really is: the user for putting the information out there, or the search engines and social networks for collating the data and retaining it for vast periods of time.

The vast majority of Generation Y users will be at least somewhat aware that once something is on the Web, it cannot be taken down not for love nor money. But I can still Google my own name and find a cached copy of my cringeworthy MySpace profile from 2005 which frankly makes me want to gag with embarrassment.

Information as a commodity

Without melodrama or emphasis, exaggeration or overestimation, we are heading towards an 'Information Armageddon'.

The world we live in today deals in information and data. Gold and platinum, diamonds and uranium; all useful and precious metals with great value and worth, and many have died and killed for. But the one universal currency that we use in this post-modern world is information.

We all have it. We all have our own specific, unique set of data and that makes us who we are. Our age, height, weight, name, location, feelings, emotions, thoughts and connections, all bundled together make a unique signature which makes us identifiable and singular in this world rapidly approaching 7 billion people.

The data we put online, more often than not it will be data that can easily be read and transcribed as text by computers, indexing and caching. This gives off enough data about ourselves as it is, but the data that can be extrapolated from a single photograph can be terrifying. Using simple mathematical equations, our height and weight can be measured by calculating distant landmarks with pre-existing data markers.

The privacy of the future US president

Twenty years from now, in and around the decade of 2030, the G8 superpowers of the world will hold national elections. The United States, the United Kingdom (we'll probably be a republic by then to be honest), Spain, France, Germany - the list goes on. New presidents and prime ministers will be put forward to the public vote.

In other industries, my current generation will be of age to take on higher paid jobs with greater responsibility, professorships and directorships of major companies. They will be in the public eye and need to maintain communications as impartially and as credibly as they can.

I strongly suspect that our own social network content in particular will bide its time to risk sabotaging the future careers of all of the aforementioned and more. Think about it. A future president of the United States is probably in college right now with no clue that he (hopefully she) will be elevated to the White House in years to come.

But with photos of them under-age drinking, causing public nuisance or being snapped in a picture which could discredit their future selves; they won't think about that today, but they will most certainly know about it when the press jumps on it years down the line.

The past is there to haunt us. The past we are creating for ourselves in present day will follow us around like a dark shadow, threatening to expose a personal side of our future professional integrity that could ruin our careers.

It isn't a difficult concept to imagine, is it?

Reflecting on an 'open' generation

The BBC spoke to social media consultant, Suw Charman-Anderson who said, "As a society, we are just going have to become a bit more forgiving of the follies of youth".

The misgivings of today's youth will no doubt be held in a different perspective in years to come. Everybody knows that the '60's was full of rebellion, drug taking and Andy Warhol tributes, and like many of my generation today, my parents were part of this widespread explosion of liberalisation of values. We look back without regret and accept it was a vital necessity to progress culturally after one of the bloodiest wars of the recent past.

And while Google signals a move towards social networking with rumoured '' and the acquisition and investment in other social networks and gaming sectors, it would appear that these cautionary words from Schmidt indicate an empathetic understanding of the issues the Generation Y face in years to come.

But Google has had its fair share of privacy concerns just as major-player Facebook, with Google's Buzz application displaying publically visible Gmail addresses. And as the original interview says, the Google CEO knows "roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are".

Privacy is dead. Do you agree or disagree?

Topics: Social Enterprise, Google, Legal

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  • Yeah right, Eric.

    So, I'm glad he's concerned about user privacy, but the fact is that he's just against users making their own data public. Mr. Schmidt would much prefer that it only be available to him, so he can pimp you out to advertisers. Basically he's saying that talking about something on Facebook where the whole world can see it is bad, but talking about it in a Gmail message, where only Google can, and [b]does[/b], see it is good. Well, we appreciate your concern "Dr. Strangelove", but I know you better than that.
    • Well said

      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • More BS from Google and Eric Schmidt

    This guy just won't shut up until the whole world believes his lies.
  • RE: Google CEO's social media warning; Impending information armageddon?

    It's an interesting debate.

    On one hand, we can appeal to reason and ask for forgiveness for youthful transgressions. We all make mistakes. On the other, we can erase our pasts, censor our postings, or form a culture where "Big Brother" is watching. There are pros and cons to both paths, which I think was highlighted well in the NY Times Magazine article, "The Web Means the End of Forgetting" :

    I think the whole issue of user privacy and social context is about to heat up, especially with all of the legal, social, and moral implications it entails. Young professionals are losing jobs over what they post, couples use Facebook as leverage in about 40% of divorces, and no matter what any one says, no email is 100% safe. Believe me, this article only scrapes the surface of the issue.

    My full thoughts can actually be found on my blog in two posts:

    You don't have to read either post, but if you are curious on what I have to say, I'd appreciate it :)

    Any other thoughts on the issue?
  • RE: Google CEO's social media warning; Impending information armageddon?

    What good would it be to change your identity? Short of a "witness protection program" type of change there will always be a trail leading from the new identity to the old one. You'd think Eric Schmidt, of all people, would know that.
  • Reputation should not be based on secrecy

    I can not understand how my misdeeds during my college years can ruin my carrier or professional reputation. The career and reputation should not depend on certain facts about you kept secret. If something can ruin your career or reputation it should be publicly known. And definitely 'follies of the youth' do not fall into this category. As the BBC guy rightly said, our attitude towards the vast information we deem personal today will change in profound way. It is changing already today. For an amusing example see
    • RE: Google CEO's social media warning; Impending information armageddon?

      @maximk111 Sort of depends on your definition of a youthful folly. Is it a youthful folly, for example, to join a White Supremacist organization, or to go train in some Al Qaeda camp?
      • That's the point

        @durleste Either of those activities should have an impact on that person at times. I wouldn't want either of those running for president!
  • RE: Google CEO's social media warning; Impending information armageddon?

    I've googled my name, a few of the things that come up are embarrassing.
    J hawk 336
  • Could Eric just be mad that Google is loosing the social media battle?

    Very interesting topic Zach. You always wonder what the motives are. On the one hand he makes a good point, but on the other hand he always need to worry about Google. We all know that Google is loosing the social media battle right now quite substantially. Social media is growing so fast right now that the more social media failures Google has the further they fall behind. Unless... They could slow the market down by scaring people from using social media. Who knows, maybe he genuinely cares. This link is a poll about it. Lets see what everyone thinks -
    • RE: Google CEO's social media warning; Impending information armageddon?


      No, that can't be it. Schmidt is right, it is a serious impending problem. Why, it is a problem already.

      Then again, I have a lot of doubts about his proposed drastic solution. As others have already pointed out, the link between old name and new is still traceable, even if it is no longer a simple Google search.
  • RE: Google CEO's social media warning; Impending information armageddon?

    Or maybe a kind of Social Darwinism is good: those with recorded "youthful indiscretions" are disqualified from the get-go.
  • Not All bad!

    I've just googled my name - Seems I'm a Doctor, an Author, an Artist, a Lawyer and a fundraiser, and I've died at least twice, and that's just in the first three pages of search results!

    OK, I'm past 50 and I didn't put my youth online, so I have less to embarrass me.

    The flip side of all this is that maybe the hypocrites out there will lose some of their influence, and society will become more tolerant. Previously the wealthy and unscrupulous have been able to dig up their opponent's follies, whilst keeping their own buried - now the playing field may be more level!

    As for the folly of youth, anything particularly nasty will get on the public record through the legal system anyway if you're stupid enough to put it on social networking.

    As for Ku Klux Klan membership etc., would you rather have a reformed "outed" ex Klanner in government, or an ex Klanner who can be blackmailed? Sometimes guilty consciences give rise to extraordinary moral character and real solutions.
  • Re bstaud@... "Social Darwinism"

    bstaud@... suggested:
    'Or maybe a kind of Social Darwinism is good: those with recorded "youthful indiscretions" are disqualified from the get-go.'

    Unfortunately this could lead to a preponderance of wimps and wowsers in our governments. Not to mention the "secret evildoers". Remember the indiscretions needn't necessarily be illegal or antisocial, just unpalatable to some voters.

    I doubt that there'd be enough good leaders left after this sort of winnowing!
    • RE: Google CEO's social media warning; Impending information armageddon?


      It has already happened. That is how Dan Quayle rose to US VP.
  • RE: Google CEO's social media warning; Impending information armageddon?

    Maybe (or so I wish), the scenario Mr. Schmidt portrays will result in more and more people learning to see all youthful deeds for what they are: things you do when you are young and learning (of course, with some exceptions). That way people wouldn't have to lie about their past in order to be accepted. Everyone knows the USA is one of the most hypocritical societies on earth, maybe social networking is a way to cure that. Believe it or not, a recent study found out people are usually honest in the way they present themselves in social networks sites. The exceptions are statistically insignificant. Food for thought.
    • RE: Google CEO's social media warning; Impending information armageddon?


      What 'studies' claimed this and why do you believe them? I don't. You shouldn't.
  • RE: Google CEO's social media warning; Impending information armageddon?

    Privacy is being lost at an alarming rate! This is thanks to the fact we are perceiving correctness on the part of the those who gather our information and therefore, feel safe in giving with no checks and balances. Because of this, we willfully give out our personal and private information as if we were on a street corner blurting it out for all to hear. The Web is the street corner and there are many vying and clamoring to be close to us so they can hear what we are saying. It is for this reason, that I believe the spirit of this article is correct. I also agree with the fact that neither Google nor Schmidt care in the least what happens to those who would pass on personal and private information in any place; Google or otherwise.

    However, we should think of ourselves as in a Library where all can hear. If they have it, what will they do with it? - Anyone's personal and private information.

    We willingly, for convenience, give up our private and personal information more and more. Social Media is not the culprit here. It is the convenience posed by Social Media that is the culprit. Social Media is just a symptom of something systemic and growing to pandemic proportions which, will collapse on itself if not controlled. Yes, an "Information Armageddon" is in our future with consequences that no one can possibly foresee or predict now. However, the warning signs are there and should be heeded.

    If you gave a copy of your house key to whom ever for convenience, eventually, your stuff would get stolen and you would have no idea which of the key carrying bandits took it. - And so it is with personal and private information being given away more and more for personal convenience.
    The Rifleman
  • Celebrities wage an "image war" today

    This is the same thing that happens today with celebrities... they wage a constant "image war", struggling to control their public image based on content they prefer vs. content from childhood or content obtained through "public" channels such as popperazi.

    I see the future state of "Juvenile Facebook Escapades" as the consumerized version of this. Having to basically be your own publicist to constantly reinforce the image you wish to portray in order to obtain your goals.

    Skills such as sales, marketing, "spin doctor", and liar will play prominently.

    The bigger question is: What happens when Facebook declines in a few years, ends up getting sold, and all of your information, and information ABOUT your information (meta-information) ends up in the hands of the acquirer?

    Not a realistic scenario? Where is MySpace these days? Napster? Internet "services" have an average lifespan shorter than hamsters.

    One would hope the acquiring entity respects the privacy policy in place today, but that's not a requirement. Likewise, Facebook could end up in bankruptcy and your information could end up on the public auction block. Or, in a future state of decline, the CFO could simply choose to change the privacy policy and have a "fire sale" on your private information just to make a buck.

    Caveat Emptor. There is nothing in place contractually requiring Facebook or any other "free" internet service to be ethical.
  • RE: Google CEO's social media warning; Impending information armageddon?

    Actually, I do not. I believe that a future disruption to even Google itself (and Facebook) will alter the course that he predicts here. For example; a dollar is used to store and exchange value yet it is completely anonymous - I don't know anything about it's past or future - I do not need to know in order to carry out the transaction.

    Google is an information company, not a knowledge company. Knowledge exists only between the ears of people and is also used to store and exchange value. Both Google and Facebook do not realize that value can be created, stored, and exchanged while maintaining anonymity if the public knowledge inventory were properly coded. The "next Google" will, in fact, filter out irrelevant "information" as a means of creating time. Time is the real currency. For more on this please see