NPR's Andy Carvin scored a fascinating question-and-answer bout with former Google CEO and current Executive Chairman, who spoke at the Edinburgh International TV Festival April 28.
Carvin asked Schmidt, who more than once admitted dropping the ball when it came to addressing the search engine's years-long social software deficit, how Google justifies its strict "common name" policy when revealing legal name identities could put people at risk.
For quick context, Google has been raked over the coals by more than one media member, pundit and pseudonym-using Google+ user for its policy requiring real names.
The company gives fake name users 4 days to swap out their pseudonym for their real name; those who fail to comply have their accounts suspended.
So what does Schmidt think of this?
Schmidt said Google+ was built primarily as an identity service, so it depends on people using their real names if they're going to build future products that leverage that information.
This was incredibly exciting (and a little scary) for me to read. I'd argued in the past that one of the reasons Google wants people to use their real names is so that they can target them personally with advertising. As in, socially targeting advertising.
Think of this as the prelude toward the Minority Report ads that targeted Tom Cruise's character when he walked through a mall. Though instead of a retinal scan, Google's algorithms pair users' interests with their Google+ Profiles.
Some readers argued that Google doesn't need user's real names to execute this type of targeted advertising.
Maybe not, but it would certainly remove some margin for error in the vast, chaotic abyss of signal-to-noise ratios. We're not certain how Google will leverage users' real names -- and I'm not sure Google is yet either, but I do know that the company has more power and control over its users by owning the real names associated with its users.
I like Fred Wilson's angle on this. He wrote yesterday: "It begs the question of whom Google built this service for. You or them. And the answer to why you need to use your real name to use the service is because they need you to."
Well, clearly it built this service so it could give consumers what they asked for, right? Wrong, though they can spin it that way. They built the service because Facebook's popularity threatened to suck eyeballs and user engagement from Google's services.
Google+ was built simply to compete with Facebook, and if it does the trick, it will satisfy users along the way. Everybody wins, in the utopian scheme of things.
Schmidt also had some choice words for users who object to its real name policy. Don't want to tie your legal identity to Google+? Don't join. Carvin's paraphrasing of Schmidt's response goes:
"No one is forcing you to use it. It's obvious for people at risk if they use their real names, they shouldn't use G+. Regarding countries like Iran and Syria, people there have no expectation of privacy anyway due to their government's own policies, which implies (to me, at least) that Schmidt thinks there's no point of even trying to have a service that allows pseudonyms. Unfortunately, the way the Q&A was conducted, I wasn't in a position to ask him a followup on this particular point."
Does that remind you of the stance on identity taken by any currently powerful CEO? Maybe Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who like Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy before him doesn't believe privacy is super relevant online?
One could choke on that juicy piece of irony.
For all the verbal jousting between Google+ and Facebook on how one rips the other off, it's fascinating that Google and Facebook hold similarly dim views of social network privacy.
At least Google is more upfront about it. Kinda sorta. It clearly learned from the Google Buzz privacy snafu, just as Facebook toned things down after Beacon blew up.