Whereas the Google of old might just throw products “over the wall” and not think much about their real world impacts, the Google of today has much more respect for what its digital products might do in the real world, says Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt. That’s one reason why Google Glass is in a long and limited distribution process, he gave as an example.
Schmidt was at Google Los Angeles last week, speaking to an audience of Google employees and outside guests from the area, about the book he co-authored with Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age: Reshaping The Future Of People Nations & Business. Cohen also spoke.
The book covers the widespread disruption and change both authors foresee coming, as technology continues to grow and spreads into the hands of more people. I asked Schmidt if writing the book had caused him to push for any changes at Google.
Schmidt didn’t cite that the process of writing the book itself led to any major changes, but he did reply that in general, Google has become more contemplative about the impact its products may have and cautious in releasing them. He said:
[We] respect the interaction between the digital world and the real world more. Again, people at Google and certainly myself assume that we can just sort of do what we think is right but in fact the other organizations will react, and we spend a lot of time talking about that reaction. And I think the Google that you covered seven or eight years ago wouldn’t have had that conversation.
The Google today has that conversation. For example Google Glass [is a] fantastic innovation but we’re also limiting its distribution, we’re studying how it’s going to be used. We’re not just throwing it over the wall the way we did in 2004 or 2005.
Two examples of the past “throwing it over the wall” approach, I’d say, would be Gmail and Google Street View.
With Gmail’s launch in 2004, the notion that Google was going to provide unlimited storage in exchange for targeting ads based on the content of emails led to much scrutiny and even legislation against it being considered, all of which eventually went away (though Microsoft has been trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to revive the issue).
Google Street View — its street-level photography system — launched in 2007. Other companies had been doing similar efforts, but soon after Google began, privacy issues and pressure began to bear on the company, leading to things like face blurring and the opt-out options, along with investigations that began after Street View cars were found to be collecting private wifi data, in a way Google hadn’t intended.
Google Glass has raised some similar privacy concerns, especially about the inability for people to tell if someone wearing them is recording video or taking a picture. But that feedback, coming off Google doing a limited release to developers, might lead to final versions for consumers that take this into account.