VARs See Holes In Google CEO's Privacy, Anonymity Stance

Eric Schmidt thinks privacy is "incredibly important," but he recently described online anonymity as a dangerous loophole that governments need to address. The Google CEO said this is particularly true when it comes to tracking down criminals that use the Web to engage in nefarious behavior.

"The only way to manage this is true transparency and no anonymity," Schmidt said last week at the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, Calif. "In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it."

IT security professionals contacted by CRN had a range of reactions to Schmidt's comments on the perils of online anonymity. Which isn't surprising given that views on this issue often hew to people's beliefs on politics and personal freedoms.

"I think he's right -- anonymity is going to be very rare in the future," said Darrel Bowman, CEO of Tacoma, Wash.-based security solution provider "To keep up with cybercrime, we need to verify who people are and what they do out there."

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But from a purely technological standpoint, some solution providers don't see how transparency could be achieved through measures that exist today. Andrew Plato, president of Anitian Enterprise Security, based in Beaverton, Ore., says stronger emphasis on security best practices should supersede legislative efforts for dealing with the anonymity issue.

"The transparency argument is technically unfeasible and would immediately become subject to abuse. We're not going to get it," said Plato. "So rather than demand a ridiculous solution, how about focus on building more secure applications and better security operations."

"What he's really saying is 'Google needs to be able to uniquely identify you so that we can gain additional revenue sources for highly targeted advertising that's delivered based upon extensive data mining that has been conducted relative to your online habits'," said Michael Cocanower, president of Phoenix-based Microsoft solution provider ITSynergy.

Next: Differences Between Privacy and Anonymity

There's a tendency for privacy and anonymity to get lumped together into the same argument. In light of this popular misconception, Schmidt sought to clarify Google's stance on privacy in a video interview with CNBC at the Techonomy event.

"It's very important that Google and everyone else respect people's privacy. People have a right to privacy; it's natural; it's normal. It's the right way to do things," Schmidt told CNBC. "But if you are trying to commit a terrible, evil crime, it's not obvious that you should be able to do so with complete anonymity."

But no matter how well reasoned Schmidt's arguments, the fact is that Google has a vast amount of user data under its control and will always be viewed with suspicion by those in the security business.

Google for years avoided using this user data for business aims, but due to the mounting competitive threat from Facebook and other companies, it's now collected some data on the Websites users visit and funneling that into its advertising business, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week.

Plato says it's easy for Google to talk about protecting of privacy when it has business reasons for doing so. But other companies that gather this sort of data are no less susceptible to the temptations of monetizing it, he said.

"Data privacy is like the ring from Lord of the Rings. It will corrupt anybody who holds it. There is just too much temptation [for companies] to hand over data, for all sorts of reasons," Plato said.