Mini-Drones Help Eric Schmidt Find Religion on Privacy

Eric Schmidt has apparently found religion on privacy, and he's here with a message: mini-drones need to be regulated. We can't have folks and terrorists and such using these things to spy on each other, he said, that's for governments and Google to do.

OK, I added the bit about Google, but that's what kept circulating in my mind when I was reading about this at the BBC. Actually, I was thinking that Mr. Schmidt has brass balls the size of Kansas.

Eric Schmidt

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt

I mean, I agree with him on this issue. Advances in remote drone technology are and will continue to proliferate to consumers, and the idea of Anyone and Everyone™ being able to easily, quickly, and cheaply toss a mini-drone into the sky so they can spy on Anyone and Everyone™ is horrific.

As Mr. Schmidt himself put it, "How would you feel if your neighbor went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their backyard. It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?"

I'd feel pretty rotten about it, kind of like how I feel about Google and Facebook tracking anything and everything they can about us and then selling it to the highest bidder. Kind of like how I felt about Google sheening around with cars that took pictures of everything and listened in on our WiFi networks at the same time.

Kind of like how I feel about a future where people walk around with Google Glass devices watching everything so it can added to our profiles. Kind of like how I feel about—thanks to Google's excellent facial recognition—being a part of it even when I'm not actively using Google's services.

Don't forget, Eric Schmidt is the man who famously said, “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

Brass balls. Did I say the size of Kansas? Make that Canada.

"I'm not going to pass judgment on whether armies should exist, but I would prefer to not spread and democratize the ability to fight war to every single human being," he said, and I honestly applaud him for saying it.

But then he added this: "It's got to be regulated... It's one thing for governments, who have some legitimacy in what they're doing, but have other people doing it... it's not going to happen."

What he really means is that the ability to snoop and pry and watch—always watch—needs to be kept in the hands of governments and corporations who are wealthy, who can be trusted with (and profit from) the information.

After all, democratizing the ability to surveil might devalue some of that information, and we can't have that.

No, I am pleased that Mr. Schmidt made these comments, and I am glad someone with power and clout—someone as smart as Google Chairman Eric Schmidt—is willing and able to talk about this.

But, and this is a big ol' but worthy of adulation and adoration from Sir Mix-A-Lot, I can't help but be doubtful of his motives.

It's like Mr. Schmidt warning us that Facebook and Apple's ecosystems are threats to an open Internet. It's true—never mind that some of us like the idea of Google not being able to slurp everything we do—but Google wants things to be "open" so that the company can profit from that openness.

I'm also disregarding the reality that Facebook is an equal offender, and that Google was really just pissed that the social networking giant and Apple both have the ability to slurp what it can't.

I'm also reminded of when Mr. Schmidt argued that patents that set the technology bar should be available to everyone. That's a mighty convenient position for Google to take, considering that its Android OEMs who have been on the losing end of patent litigation around the world.

So yeah, mini-drones could certainly become a privacy nightmare, but so is Google's collection of portfolio on me, and that's not a "someday" thing, that's here today.

Original photo courtesy of Wikimedia, snarked up with help from Shutterstock.