Sergey Brin denies Google knows who you are

I've been doing research into the evolution of Google's approach to surveillance and privacy — in particular, the ways in which Sergey Brin and Larry Page talk about the issues in public. I came across a pair of interesting interviews that show two very different examples.

One is from 2008. It is a clip of Sergey Brin talking to Israeli TV host Yair Lapid.

In the interview, Brin is very cagey and cautious. And he flat out denies that Google has the ability to link a user's real life identity to their Google searches. (Despite the existence of several Google patents going back to 2004 for algorithms that extract personal data from search behavior.)

Brin: "...we don't actually know it's you. We know that some user might have searched for that particular set of things. Or, more specifically, we know that perhaps there was a computer. We don't know who was at it. We don't even know if it was the same person."

The other interview is from 2012. And it shows Larry Page directly contradicting Sergey Brin's earlier claim.

In the clip, Page talks about the need for Google to be able to unify and mine all your Google data — Search, Gmail, Maps, Calendar, Google Office. Talking in a muffled voice (Page has a vocal nerve disorder), he very clearly states his position on laws or regulations that could limit Google's access to data: He believes there shouldn't be any.

I do think that overregulation kind of of the Internet and restriction in what people can be is a big risk for us...

And so virtually everything that we want to do, I think, is somewhat at odds with, you know, locking down all of your information for uses that you haven't contemplated yet. So that's something I worry about. I think that's a very important thing. We don't actually know how the Internet's going to work ten years from now, so it's kind of, I think, a mistake to start carving out large classes of things that you don't really understand yet that you don't want to let people do. I think that's kind of the approach a lot of regulators are taking, which I think is sad.

That's right. Larry Page thinks privacy laws that would limit Google's for-profit surveillance business are "sad."

—Yasha Levine

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