19 Aug 2010

Google boss warns of personal information online

9:11 am on 19 August 2010

The head of search engine Google has predicted all young people will eventually be allowed to automatically change their name on reaching adulthood to escape their online past.

Chief executive Eric Schmidt has warned that hundreds of millions of web users worldwide who divulge increasing amounts of personal information on social networking and other sites may not be aware of the consequences.

Mr Schmidt has told the Wall Street Journal he does not believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time.

"I mean we really have to think about these things as a society. I'm not even talking about the really terrible stuff, terrorism and access to evil things."

Google itself has a wealth of data on web users, handling billions of emails through Gmail and myriad images of people's houses through Google Street View, as well as the information it has on online searches.

Mr Schmidt forecast that the future of Google would rely on the company storing more and more personal information about its users.

Because of the data the site collects, "we know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are", he said.

Rather than simply answering their questions, this may help Google tell users what they should be doing next, he suggested.

One idea for the future of the search engine is that more searches are done on the user's behalf without them needing to type, he said.