Switch from Google to Bing, browser-maker urges

"The innocent have nothing to fear."

That seems to be more or less the position of Google CEO Eric Schmidt when it comes to online privacy, and Schmidt's comments to that effect have set off a firestorm of controversy over the web company's commitment to its users' privacy.

In an interview broadcast late last week, CNBC's Maria Bartiromo asked Schmidt if people could trust the world's leading search engine company with their private information.

"I think judgment matters," Schmidt responded. "If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines, including Google, do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities."

That comment has raised criticism from privacy advocates and even some competing firms in the online world.

Using Schmidt's comments as the background to his announcement, an executive at Mozilla, the company that makes the Firefox browser, on Thursday suggested Firefox users to switch to Bing, Microsoft's competing search engine, according to a report at ComputerWorld.

Citing a clip from a CNBC broadcast last Friday, during which Google chief executive Eric Schmidt discussed online privacy, Asa Dotzler, Mozilla's director of community development, provided a link to the Firefox extension that adds Bing to Firefox's search engine list. "Here's how you can easily switch Firefox's search from Google to Bing," said Dotzler in an entry on his personal blog today. The link he included leads to the Bing search add-on.

"That was Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, telling you exactly what he thinks about your privacy," said Dotzler on his blog. "There is no ambiguity, no 'out of context' here." Dotzler added that he considers Bing's privacy policy better than Google's.

Mozilla's move is all the more remarkable given the fact the company has a deal with Google to set Google's search engine as the default in Firefox browsers.

And while Google's competitors scramble to take advantage of Schmidt's dismissal of privacy concerns, political bloggers and privacy advocates have been accusing Schmidt of betraying the company's previous support of privacy rights.

Marcy Wheeler at the FireDogLake blog points out that, just three years ago, Google fought the US government over the Justice Department's demand that Google hand over data on millions of users in an online pornography investigation.

Ryan Tate at Gawker called Schmidt out for hypocrisy, noting that Google was reported to have blacklisted tech news site CNET after it published some of Schmidt's personal information online.

"The philosophy that secrets are useful mainly to indecent people is awfully convenient for Schmidt as the CEO of a company whose value proposition revolves around info-hoarding," Tate wrote.

Google's data mining is "like someone hiring a private investigator to follow you," writes Sebastian Anthony at DownloadSquad. "Even if you don't do anything illegal while under their surveillance, does that make it OK? Google is always pretty evasive when it comes to the issue of privacy, and Eric Schmidt's stunning statement certainly won't help allay our growing concerns."

The following video was broadcast on CNBC, December 3, 2009, and uploaded to the Web by TheyToldYou.com.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/A6e7wfDHzew&hl=en_US&fs=1& expand=1]