Larry Page at TED 2014

James Duncan Davidson/Flickr/TedConference


Google CEO Larry Page was hesitant to tell the world about the medical condition that was hurting his ability to speak, but publicly sharing his voice troubles helped him realize the value of openness. Thousands of people with similar conditions replied to him online.

If people could only share their medical records anonymously — and if research doctors could find them online and connect to the patients — Page estimates that 100,000 lives could be saved this year.

That same premise should apply to online privacy, Page said in an onstage interview with Charlie Rose at the TED conference in Vancouver today.

Page said, “I’m just very worried that with Internet privacy, we’re doing the same thing we’re doing with medical records, we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. We’re not thinking about the tremendous good that can come from people sharing the right information with the right people in the right ways.”

Sure, privacy is a big and valid issue. “The world is changing. When you carry a phone, it knows where you are,” Page said. “There’s so much more information about you. It makes sense why people are asking difficult questions. And I think the main thing we need to do is just provide people choice. Show them what data’s being collected, their search history, location data. We’re excited about incognito mode in Chrome, and doing that in more ways. But just giving people more choice and awareness of what’s going on.”


Page, who also spoke about advances in artificial intelligence and Internet access, was the latest technology leader to castigate government surveillance. His co-founder Sergey Brin had posed for a virtual photo op with Edward Snowden, who beamed in via telepresence robot to TED on Tuesday.

“You can’t have privacy without security,” Page said.

“I don’t think we can have a democracy if we have to protect our users from the government [and] from stuff that we never had a conversation about,” he said. “We need to know what the parameters of it is, what the surveillance is going to do, and how and why. The government did itself a tremendous disservice by doing that all in secret. … I think we need to have a debate about that, or we can’t have a functioning democracy.”

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I am sure he gets to decide who the "right" people are too. No thanks Larry.

Although I am surprised he got a word in edgewise, the way Charlie Rose interrupts everyone that he interviews.


While I don't expect Page to speak in favour of privacy (since his entire empire is built from the collection and use of personal information.)

"Privacy" isn't a dated idea about personal insecurity or modesty, it's a very solid and well founded boundary that ensures that there is a reasonable leap of difficulty between exploitable personal information and those which would aim, either now or in the future, to exploit such data. Whether that be hackers, nefarious governments, unscrupulous business practices or destructive political movements (yes Godwin's law is appropriate here.)

Also his medical example is flawed, not only is the figure arbitrary, but the medical field already do share anonymised case studies. There is certainly room for improving this system, but opening all medical records to scrutiny certainly is not the right approach and will create an abundance of noise, such a step could actually hinder medical research rather than enhance it. Page's suggestion is not a new idea and many numerous and [IMO] greater minds than Page have thought far longer about this already.

Page projects a view that privacy is as a soft, poorly defined concept that's merely a cultural hangover. This couldn't be further from the truth. There is a very clear boundary to what is private information and history has taught us (repeatedly so) that such information is best kept private.


Hear, hear. The zealot's views on issue is but a techno-phobic reflex, socially would benefit greatly from the applications of "big data" to everyday life, if control is in place there should not be a deterrent to exploring the boundaries.


No, Larry, many of use are thinking about what good could come from sharing the right information with the right people in the right ways. And for some of them, and it seems to be growing every day, they are determining that you, Google, isn't the right people to be sharing it with or through.


Good thing there's no self-interest in Page's perspective. As someone who's got no stake in the removal of individual privacy, Page is unassailable. 

This is akin to the Big Bad Wolf advising the three little pigs to build their houses out of biodegradable tissue paper because of its health benefits.


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