Apr 22, 2013

Eric Schmidt's privacy concerns about drones more than a little ironic


Executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt,  recently went public with his concerns about 'everyman' drones getting into the wrong hands. Thinks they should be banned... might be a privacy threat. Guess Schmidt should know being a top exec of a company that some regard as one of the biggest privacy threats on the planet.

Schmidt thinks we need to be aware of the potential of drones to "democratize the ability to fight war"...  and warns of drones being used to spy and harass. In other words the little people might get hold of them as opposed to you know... the cops, American military.

Drones in the hands of law enforcement is not reassuring. Neither is the use of drones by the Obama administration for misguided counter-terrorism purposes. I have yet to read Schmidt's concern for the mounting toll of innocents in the drone campaign. But we do get this by way of justification for drone use... "It's one thing for governments, who have some legitimacy in what they're doing."

Really? In the case of predator drones on cross-border 'kill' missions not according to international law and those countries whose sovereignty is being overridden. Glenn Greenwald has a column that discusses some of these issues.

With regard to an 'everyman war' breaking out, with drones being deployed in unconventional ways, Schmidt raises the alarm: "You're having a dispute with your neighbor... How would you feel if your neighbor went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their back yard. It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?"

His concern is more than a little eyebrow raising coming from a head of a company with fleets of prowling observation cars. Few people have either the cash or leisure time to invest in drone tech in order to spy on Bob down the road. Most people have other ways of dealing with neighborhood issues, like picking up the phone. Maybe 'everyman' drones are more of a concern for billionaires who see one way in which their security could be breached in ways that can't easily be covered by the usual deterrents.

Let's deal with the neighbors and commercial drone use later when these scenarios pan out. Primarily we should be concerned about the abuse of drones by law enforcement, the military and concerned security-wise also about, well... Google.

There are legitimate privacy concerns in using Google services. Add a neighborhood fence sitter scanning with Google glass and a Google observation vehicle casing the house for Street View and it could prove more privacy compromising than having an irate neighbor launch a commercially purchased mini-drone that looks like a flying spider. Might even be fun for some in the gun-totin' USA... a chance to sharpen their  shooting skills.

It would take some serious escalation of a local issue for a neighbor to resort to drones and even then so, as mentioned, there are more than a few ways to discourage it.

Google is in the business of photographing everything that can be photographed. It is intrusive in ways a lot of the targeted find compromising, even invasive. We are supposed to trust it... the company with a "do no evil" motto that Steve Jobs dismissed out of hand as "bullshit." Frankly, it might be preferable to deal with the ornery neighbor, even if he does have a fleet of mini-drones poised to go.