Google CEO Eric Schmidt has again kicked up something of an online firestorm with a statement about privacy.
In a CNN interview Monday, Schmidt responded to questions about what Google knows about people by saying that if people don't like having their homes photographed for Google Street View for the world to see, they can "just move."
The comment came during an interview on the Parker Spitzer show. "With Street View, we drive by exactly once, so you can just move," said Schmidt, eliciting uncomfortable laughter from interviewer Kathleen Parker. "The point is, we only do it once. This is not a monitoring situation."
Those few sentences stirred up the blogosphere, and various news sites erupted with stories about Schmidt apparently telling people they can move if they don't like having their houses on Street View.
Was he joking? Google e-mailed a statement from Schmidt to Computerworld that said he misspoke.
"As you can see from the unedited interview, my comments were made during a fairly long back and forth on privacy," Schmidt said in the e-mail. "I clearly misspoke. If you are worried about Street View and want your house removed please contact Google and we will remove it."
Christine Chen, a Google spokeswoman, added that if people want to remove their homes from Street View, they can simply locate the specific image, click "Report a problem" in the bottom left of the window, fill out the form and click "Submit."
Street View is a popular feature of Google Maps and Google Earth that gives users a 360-degree view of many streets, and the homes and cars that sit on them, around the world.
"They are not only flagrantly violating privacy, they are joking about it," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group. "It is really painting the picture of a "let them eat cake" kind of royal disregard for the feelings of their customers that is unmatched in this decade by any company. [Google is] almost begging for regulatory action and may get fined in Europe."
Schmidt's comments didn't help what has become an already tumultuous situation. Last week, Google said that nearly 250,000 German households had requested that their homes be removed from Street View. Many Germans have been upset that Google is getting ready to launch the service in 20 of the largest cities in that country.
Late last week, Google admitted that the cars it uses to drive around and photograph houses for Street View also inadvertently gathered personal information such as e-mails and passwords. Google apologized for the error and said it was taking steps to improve its privacy policies. Among those steps was the appointment of a privacy director to oversee engineering and product management, more privacy training for employees, and a requirement that each project leader prepare a privacy design document stating how user data involved in a project will be handled.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.