Will Schmidt Show Restraint at Senate Hearing — Or Will He Need One?
Steve Martin once said, “Some people have a way with words. Other people … not have way.” Former Google CEO and current Chairman Eric Schmidt falls squarely in the latter category.
In appearance after appearance, the gaffe-prone Schmidt has made one tactless remark after another — often on sensitive or controversial topics. So when he appears before a Senate antitrust subcommittee hearing this Wednesday to testify about the company’s dominance of Internet search, he had best choose his words carefully.
Because there’s a lot more at stake here than Google’s public image, which Schmidt has done as much as anyone to tarnish. And Senate subcommittee Chairman Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and his colleagues likely have an even lower tolerance for Schmidt’s freaky, power-tripping pronouncements than most.
But can Schmidt restrain himself from making them? Given his record to date, that seems unlikely. In the past year alone he’s made a string of verbal gaffes for which he and Google have taken quite a beating in the media.
Speaking about Google’s social media efforts and its growing rivalry with Facebook at the company’s Zeitgeist conference last September, Schmidt ominously said, “The best thing that would happen is for Facebook to open up its data. Failing that, there are other ways to get that information.”
That same month, he told the Atlantic, “We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”
Defending Google’s Street View service on CNN’s “Parker Spitzer” program in October, Schmidt said that people who don’t like Street View cars taking pictures of their homes and businesses “can just move” afterward to protect their privacy. Ironically, Schmidt said this on the very day that Google conceded that those cars did collect more than just fragments of personal payload data.
And then there was the now-infamous “creepy line” comment: “There is what I call the creepy line. The Google policy on a lot of things is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”
Schmidt’s personal policy, evidently, is the exact opposite.
These are just a few examples; there are plenty of others here, and they’re worth reading because Schmidt really does have a penchant for controversial statements. His testimony Wednesday will likely be as pivotal a moment for Google as then Microsoft CEO Bill Gates’s was in the company’s 1998 antitrust trial. Will it be equally embarrassing?