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An open letter to Eric Schmidt : Why we fear Google

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There will be a winner

There is a quote from you in this context that concerns me. In 2009 you said: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” The only sentence that is even more worrying comes from Mark Zuckerberg when he was on the podium of a conference with you and I in the audience. Someone asked what Facebook thinks of the storage of data and the protection of privacy. And Zuckerberg said: “I don’t understand your question. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.”

Ever since then I have thought about this sentence again and again. I find it terrible. I know that it was certainly not meant that way. Behind this statement there is a state of mind and an image of humanity that is typically cultivated in totalitarian regimes – not in liberal societies. Such a statement could also have come from the head of East Germany’s Stasi or other secret police in service of a dictatorship. The essence of freedom is precisely the fact that I am not obliged to disclose everything that I am doing, that I have a right to confidentiality and, yes, even to secrets; that I am able to determine for myself what I wish to disclose about myself. The individual right to this is what makes a democracy. Only dictatorships want transparent citizens instead of a free press.

Officials in Brussels are now thinking about how the total transparency of users can be avoided by restricting the setting and storage of cookies on the Internet (with which it is still possible today to find out which website you clicked on at 10.10 a.m. on 16. April 2006), in order to strengthen consumer rights. We do not yet know exactly how this regulation will turn out, any more than we know whether it will do more good than bad. But one thing is already certain – if it comes to pass, there will be a winner: Google. Because Google is considered by experts to be the absolute leader in the development of technologies which document the movements and habits of users without setting cookies.

Something the EU has so sorely missed in the past

Google has also made provisions as far as the antitrust proceedings in Brussels on fair search are concerned. It is expected that the whole procedure will be decided in Google’s favor. But if not, it would also be safeguarded. Concessions and restrictions that have been wrung out in lengthy proceedings, limited to Google’s European domains, would be ineffective in an agreement because Google is able, using Android or Chrome, to arbitrarily determine that the search will no longer be carried out from a web address but by using an app. This means that Google will be able to withdraw from all the commitments it has given, which to this day are still bound to the Google domains such as google.de.

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