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  (Source: Fight for the Future (on Twitter))
Mr. Schmidt admits visit to North Korea didn't produce the results he hoped for, but remains optimistic

Former Google Inc. (GOOG) CEO and current Google chairman Eric Schmidt told an audience at a Johns Hopkins University lecture:

The solution to government surveillance is to encrypt everyone.  With sufficiently long keys and changing the keys all the time, it turns out it's very, very difficult for the interloper of any kind to go in and do that.

The comment unintentionally illustrates how complex and at times ironic the reality in the digital age can be.
I. Google Wants to Stop Federal Spying -- And it Knows a Thing or Two About Spying
On the one hand Mr. Schmidt is entirely right.  Encryption is the only route to privacy in an age when one man can spy on a million men at once, with the right engineering help.  And Google is playing a "cat and mouse" game with the U.S. government trying to push back hard against rampant spying by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) on Americans and the nation's internet networks.

It's easy to see why Google is concerned -- any company should be.  This spying which could easily transform into corporate espionage on behalf of the special interest donors who back America's pro-spying politicians.  And given secrecy laws it's very possible the truth would never see the light of day.  In short Big Brother isn't just a dangerous threat to political freedom ... he's a threat to the free market, as well.
But Mr. Schmidt's commentary also carries an unfortunate irony in that it was under his reign at the world's largest internet services company that a team of Google engineers conducted an obtrusive campaign of spying, intercepting data coming off unencrypted networks in the U.S. and abroad for nearly two years, using it's Street View cars.

Google Street View
Google has been fined millions for using Street View and misleading business practices to collect data on millions of Americans. [Image Source: Google]

In many ways Google's data gathering was every bit and dangerous and obtrusive as the NSA's ongoing programs.  Google has admitted to harvest email usernames and passwords -- a stunning admission from a firm championing internet privacy.  Under his leadership Google also repeatedly circumvented other companies browser privacy settings and tracked users without asking them -- all moves designed to maximize profits for the internet's biggest ad-seller.
Perhaps it's appropriate that the U.S. government let off Google relatively light.  Google was fined $22.5M USD by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in Aug. 2012 for circumventing security settings in browsers by its rivals Apple, Inc. (AAPL) (Safari) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) (Internet Explorer), to allow Google to monitor users' browsing history.  In March it agreed to pay $7M USD settlement to U.S. state regulators and an $189,000 USD settlement to regulators in Germany over the street view accusations.  Most recently, it agreed to pay an additional $17M USD to settle yet more unauthorized tracking accusations -- this time regarding its own Chrome browser.  
The grand total paid to the FTC -- less than $50M USD combined for all three fines -- will be divvied up among the 30+ states that sued Google over each incident.  But overall, those fines were a mere slap on the wrist -- about 1.5 percent of what Google makes in a single quarter of a year (Google pocketed $2.97B USD in net earnings in Q3 2013).  Then again, perhaps that's the most the feds could ask for, given the relative hypocrisy of them accusing Google of spying on Americans.

NSA money
Many top tech firms including Oracle and Amazon supported NSA spying as it gives them federal contract money.  Google, like Oracle and Amazon has moved spy on citizens -- but has looked to monetize private spying, rather government spying. [Image Source: Maplight]

Or maybe the light fine had a little something to do with $4.2M USD Google is now paying quarterly to federal politicians.  These contributions are thought to be the same force that drove the NSA to embark on its epic spying in the first place as companies like Oracle Corp. (ORCL) and Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. (BAH) urged the members of Congress (members who they helped pay to get elected) to "improve national security" -- by giving them billions in non-competitive taxpayer contracts to spy on Americans.  
Both sides -- both the groups promoting federal spying and those opposed to it are essentially two sides of the same coin, as they both heavily try to pay off federal politicians to get financial gains -- the root of this many other problems.
II. Schmidt Predicts the Unlikely Death of Censorship
But if the contrast between Google's privacy violations and lobbying versus its vocal attacks on NSA spying seem ironically inconsistent, Mr. Schmidt seems willing to overlook that aspect.  At his speech at the top research college he told the audience that his dream is to see the expansion of the internet and encryption put an end to nations like China and the U.S. censoring the internet.  
He remarks:

First they try to block you; second, they try to infiltrate you; and third, you win. I really think that's how it works. Because the power is shifted.  I believe there's a real chance that we can eliminate censorship and the possibility of censorship in a decade.

Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un
Like Dennis Rodman (right), Eric Schmidt (not pictured) paid North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (left) a recent friendly visit. [Image Source: Reuters]

In January Mr. Schmidt visited North Korea's capital city of Pyongyang and met with senior government officials.  In March, speaking to an audience in New Delhi, India he explained:

[North Korea] is the last really closed country in the world.  This is a country that has suffered from lack of information. The Internet was built for everyone, including North Koreans. The quickest way to get economic growth in North Korea is to open up the Internet. I did my best to tell them this.

However, the visit to the Asian nation, which was until recently ruled over by late self-proclaimed "internet expert" Kim Jong-il, appeared to produce little immediate results. At Johns Hopkins University he acknowledged:

It's clear that we failed. But we'll try again. We have not been invited back.  My view is that if we can get some connectivity, then they'll begin to open the country, they'll begin to understand other systems.

The U.S. Department of State was less than thrilled by the Google veteran's Pyongyang outreach, which came at an icy point in North Korea and America's relationship following the controversial Dec. launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, a test of a technology that could threaten the U.S. mainland.  The launch was just the latest in a wave of fresh posturing by Kim Jong-un, son of the late Jong-il and new dictator of North Korea.  

spying is censorship
The U.S., like China and North Korea has been accused of spying on its citizens inappropriately. [Image Source: Fight For the Future]

Jong-un is much more of a riddle than his father.  He was raised in the West (Switzerland), reportedly speaks English extremely well, and is an avid fan of the National Basketball Association (NBA) -- the mostly American sports.  But if Jong-un secretly admires U.S. culture, his actions seem to say quite the opposite.  The U.S. and North Korea's diplomatic relations seem to have move little, or even worsened.  In April Jong-un thumbed his nose at regulators, restarting North Korea's nuclear fuel enrichment program.
And yet Mr. Schmidt, like former NBA star Dennis Rodman (who Mr. Schmidt jokingly compared himself to in March), seems to believe that extending the olive branch to the new dictator will prove more successful than threats waved around by the U.S. State Department.

Eric Schmidt -- Johns Hopkins Univ.
Eric Schmidt gives a lecture at Johns Hopkins Univ. [Image Source: Kaveh Sardari]

Ultimately Mr. Schmidt's dream of censorship dying within a decade may prove a fantasy, and his criticism of federal spying may be more than a little hypocritical.  But at the same time there's an incredible amount of validity in what he says.
Mr. Schmidt's message has legs to stand on its own regardless of the messenger's track record.  Even as the internet has proved a path to greater privacy intrusions and greater censorship, it also has proven a weapon to destroy these evils.  And as Mr. Schmidt says the easy way to make sure that no one can trivially track you -- be it Google or the NSA -- is to adopt strong encryption for all your networks.  Unfortunately, that approach may soon be illegal in the U.S., unless action is taken.

Sources: Johns Hopkins Univ., Reuters

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By NellyFromMA on 11/22/2013 12:27:27 PM , Rating: 2
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for ANYONE and EVERYONE stepping up to protect personal privacy, especially of the digital nature... However, isn't is somewhat ironic and maybe a tad hypocritical that Google spying (think Wifi hunting, Recent settlements..) is ok, but gov spying isn't?

If Google wants to rethink its own practices, that'd be great. There's nothing quite like leading by example ;)

RE: Ironic?
By Reclaimer77 on 11/22/2013 12:48:39 PM , Rating: 2
The routers were not secured, therefore they were public hotspots for all intents and purposes.

This falls woefully short of what constituted spying.

RE: Ironic?
By puter_geek_01 on 11/22/2013 5:49:01 PM , Rating: 2
The routers were not secured, therefore they were public hotspots for all intents and purposes.

Secured is to Routers as Encrypted is to Internet

If it's ok to snoop on people's unsecured routers, why is it not ok to snoop on people's internet??....

RE: Ironic?
By coburn_c on 11/22/2013 2:23:01 PM , Rating: 2
Google is a person, the government isn't [sic].

Funny that SOUTH Korea actually has some of the worst internet censorship in the world and no one ever talks about it.

RE: Ironic?
By superstition on 11/23/13, Rating: 0
RE: Ironic?
By Reclaimer77 on 11/23/2013 10:26:06 AM , Rating: 2
lol How can you somehow fit Mitt Romney into ANY discussion regardless of's amazing.

Seek help.

RE: Ironic?
By superstition on 11/23/13, Rating: 0
RE: Ironic?
By superstition on 11/26/2013 9:12:06 AM , Rating: 2
I'm certain that even you are capable of seeing the relevance, but don't let your mouth get in the way of your pea brain.

North Korea
By Schrag4 on 11/22/2013 11:41:48 AM , Rating: 5
[North Korea] is the last really closed country in the world. This is a country that has suffered from lack of information. The Internet was built for everyone, including North Koreans. The quickest way to get economic growth in North Korea is to open up the Internet. I did my best to tell them this.

Does Mr. Schmidt really not understand that leaders in North Korea understand their situation perfectly, and it's in their best interest to keep things exactly as they are? Economic growth and all other forms of freedom for the people of North Korea are direct threats to those in power. They want their citizens to be as uninformed and as dependent as possible, and they're doing a spectacular job, really.

RE: North Korea
By purerice on 11/24/2013 7:17:36 PM , Rating: 2
it's in their best interest to keep things exactly as they are

It's in their best political interest. In real terms they would be better offering freedom but freedom for those in Airstrip One would not have been good for Big Brother either.

RE: North Korea
By Schrag4 on 11/25/2013 10:20:20 AM , Rating: 2
I disagree. I'm talking about the very few at the top. How exactly could it get any better for Kim Jong Un? I would say that perhaps his conscience would be clearer if he wasn't executing people for basically no reason, but I'm afraid any conscience he was born with was conditioned out of him by his father at a very young age. How could freedom for his people be anything but devestating to the lifestyle he has become accustomed to? We're not talking about a public servant fighting for his people, here. No, we're talking about an heir to the throne who's desparate to retain control of his kingdom.

By marvdmartian on 11/22/2013 10:33:24 AM , Rating: 4 long as they have control of the media. Or at least popular cooperation from them, like we're seeing these days!

By bitmover461 on 11/22/2013 4:09:03 PM , Rating: 2
You would think the Constitution would prevent your government from spying on you. Guess not. These days it seems to be fairly irrelevant to the activities of the Feds.

Schmidt: Do No Evil was stupid
By superstition on 11/22/2013 9:39:03 PM , Rating: 2
This is the guy who said the Do No Evil mantra was stupid, not because corporations have no concept of good and evil (only "profit") -- but because it constrained some of the evil practices he favored.

That sounds like the same thing but it's not. The former is being honest; the latter is being a tool.

Anyway... the notion that the USA is going to give up censorship is completely preposterous. This is just PR. Google's management is really trying to win the PR game; they want so much to convince consumers that they're benevolent -- that the government is really separated from such benevolent corporate profit-seeking instead of being intertwined.

There is little separation. Corporations are part of our governance. They work together, and Google's management want us to go back to our naive belief that they're independent. That's why they have PR points like having Google engineers curse (delivered to the press in a nice little bundle) when discovering the government's machinations. All the world's a stage indeed.

All societies have censorship. There is no such thing as free speech, outside of the naivete that allows such a fiction to be treated with reverence.

Obama Guy
By IkeTruth on 11/24/2013 7:30:03 PM , Rating: 2
An Obama guy says what about censorship?

Again, Replacing B for M
By deltaend on 11/22/2013 2:51:57 PM , Rating: 1
Or maybe the light fine had a little something to do with $4.2B USD Google is now paying quarterly to federal politicians.

$4.2M <- M as in Million. Seriously, this is probably the 5th time this month I have seen this type of swap. I let it go the first few times, but now it's just really starting to piss me off that you guys are either not catching simple things like this that are huge deals or purposefully changing them to sway opinion. Comeon guys, BE BETTER!

By clarisayjn053 on 11/23/2013 4:49:02 PM , Rating: 1
if you need a job try this site JOBS61 (dot)COM. Dan does it at home and makes $17.92 hourly just sitting and typing stuff all day...No experience needed too

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