Big guns agog over googling

Maybe the pressure of being the next Microsoft has finally got to Google and its mild-mannered CEO, Eric Schmidt.

I’m really not sure how else to explain Google’s nuclear detonation the other day over a story on CNET, headlined “Google balances privacy, reach”. The piece delved into issues emanating from Google’s phenomenal growth and its corresponding appetite for collecting and using information about people that are collecting and using information, using Google.

Apparently, none of that is what bothered Google. What set Google off was that the story began with an example of the kinds of personal information that can be gleaned through googling a person’s name — in this case googling one Eric Schmidt.

How personal? Well, nothing gossip worthy, really. Schmidt, age 50, was worth US$1.5 billion last year and has sold US$140 million in Google stock. Eric lives in swanky Atherton, Calif., he’s hosted a fundraiser for Al Gore, he appreciates art and Eric pilots airplanes. No street address, no home phone number, no Social Security number, not a clue as to whether he wears boxers or briefs.

Yet Google complained bitterly about its top guy being googled and, in retaliation, its PR department declared that CNET reporters will get not so much as the time of day from Google for the next 12 months. All because the head of Google got googled.

But Schmidt just doesn’t strike me as the type to unleash the heavy cannons. We’re talking about a very smart guy here. It’s simply inexplicable that Schmidt would lose his cool over something so trivial.

I suspected maybe there was more to the story (there isn’t) or maybe someone at PR woke up feeling a trite overprotective. So I e-mailed David Krane, Google director of public relations. Krane’s reply hit my in-box so quickly I presumed it was an out-of-office notification. Not so: “Paul, thanks for your note. We’ll decline comment.”

Give him an A for manners and an F for helpfulness. And if that’s the advice he’s giving Schmidt, as opposed to an execution of Schmidt’s wishes, he’s doing his boss a serious disservice. In either case, Schmidt really does have some explaining to do.

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