Regarding the Real Name policy that Google is still embracing in the face of overwhelming public opposition, according to the transcript Schmidt says, "If you think about it, the Internet would be better if we had an accurate notion that you were a real person as opposed to a dog, or a fake person, or a spammer or what have you."
And I think that's great for people who want to use the name that their parents or orphanage gave them at birth. But the issue has been a point of contention for political dissidents, victims of domestic abuse, and transgender people among many others. I don't have much to say on this issue because it seems obvious to me that the policy is wrong and I'm not sure how one would further clarify that fact. A person's identity is created of their own volition. Any statement to the contrary would be easily categorized as oppression. If Skud's real name is Mary Jane Goodwife (which I just made up) but she wants to be called Skud, what business is it of a corporation to tell people to call her Mary Jane?
Eric Schmidt goes on to say in defense of the Real Name policy:
"if we knew that it was a real person, then we could sort of hold them accountable, we could check them...we could, you know, bill them."
"...people have a lot of free time and people on the Internet, there are people who do really really evil and wrong things on the Internet, and it would be useful if we had strong identity so we could weed them out. I’m not suggesting eliminating them, what I’m suggesting is if we knew their identity was accurate, we could rank them."
"...the Internet came out of universities where the issue of authentication wasn’t such a big issue. Everybody trusted everybody, you didn’t have these kinds of things."
The first two comments are disturbing for obvious reasons of leading down an Orwellian path. This last comment though reminds me of the type of person who says they don't "trust" Wikipedia. My problem isn't with their lack of trust in a user powered encyclopaedia, my problem is that they seem to think that they are expected to trust Wikipedia, or that I and all the other people who use it place our trust in Wikipedia. The problem here is the person who doesn't understand why encyclopaedias list sources. And I would say to Eric Schmidt that the best thing about the internet and about Google is that you don't have to blindly trust anything anymore. I have never spoken so much as a word to Skud online or otherwise, but I would trust it to be true if she told me something. And I would also find out for myself whether or not it was true. The two concepts don't need to exist independently of each other. Wikipedia is great now for the same reason it has always been great. Because the sources of each statement are included. And if they're not you can find out for yourself whether or not an assertion is true and base your trust on your own research. This idea that you can't trust someone because they're not adhering to the rules used by a third party in order to define their identity is a dangerous idea. Not only does it hypothetically preclude putting your trust in someone that a corporation, in this case Google, has refused to positively identify, but it also makes people more reliant on the concept that there ever exists one single source of information that can be trusted, which has never and will never be the case in any situation.
And regarding the enforcement of Google's Real Name policy in Syria and Iran, Schmidt goes on to say:
"There, there’s no assumption of privacy, everyone assumes that the Internet is bugged and that the secret police are after them. So their sensibilities are extremely different."
Hmm... So it's ok to further erode the privacy of citizens living in a totalitarian state where "the secret police are after them" because they are already living in an oppressive country and they're used to it...?
So would it then be ok to continue to outlaw anonymity should an open society such as our own devolve into a society regulated by "secret police"?
I think Eric Schmidt is probably a brilliant man, a great CEO, and technologically innovative. And maybe he does have good intentions and only needs to choose his words more carefully, but this issue should not even be something that he's working on. There's no reason why someone working in a field as highly specialized as software development should be making decisions in the field of journalism and politics and most importantly identity. These are decisions which affect human beings utilizing the largest communication platform to ever exist. One which has been shown to be highly effective in political and social revolution. These are decisions which affect human beings who are living under brutal regimes all over the world. Neither a software developer nor a CEO should ever feel they are able to tackle these issues without the proper understanding of political and social complexities, an understanding which he has, I think, sufficiently demonstrated to be lacking.
And on another note, consider this. The Google chrome notebooks are beginning to enter the market. The notebooks only function as a cloud device. So what happens when you get locked out of the cloud? Or when your account is terminated? Do you have rights as a consumer now that you have purchased this hardware which relies entirely on proprietary cloud software to run, and your account has been turned off by Google? What rights are guaranteed to you at the time of purchase? I think that there are legal ways to address the issues, and I think there are laws which already exist in most cases that are appropriate to them. They’re just not being applied. I presented in my letter to Google what I consider to be valid criticism of deficiencies within user-powered communities that are evolving online and summarily forfeiting many rights that should be inherent in any community, virtual or otherwise. We’re acknowledging a new type of identity in the world, why not get its rights sorted out from the start. Rather than governments trying to play catch-up to the tech companies.
As Google says in their own words, to their investors:
Who are our customers?
Our customers are over one million advertisers, from small businesses targeting local customers to many of the world's largest global enterprises, who use Google AdWords to reach millions of users around the world.
And as Mathew Ingram sums up in his article:
As the saying goes: If you’re not paying for it, then you’re the product being sold.
I’m unaware of any company that feels responsible to their product. And if I’m to understand that they’re responsible to their customers, the advertisers, I don’t want “the world’s largest global enterprises” dictating my identity or choosing who in Syria is granted a voice on the world stage. This affects everyone, whether you use social networking sites or not, because it affects the people who do, and if their freedoms are allowed to be compromised it is a human being's freedom being compromised, not an avatar’s. And it is of paramount importance that a citizen living in an oppressive country feels comfortable expressing themselves to the world community freely and completely and without fear of reprisal. Even more so if “the secret police” are currently inhibiting the other existing channels of communication.