Google CEO not worried about Facebook

At Web 2.0 Summit, Schmidt welcomes new Facebook Messages, explains 'creepy line' privacy comment

The CEO of Google says he's not worried at all about Facebook's new messaging system.

The more the merrier in the e-mail space, says Eric Schmidt, who was speaking at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco on Monday. Addressing a small group of reporters after appearing as the opening speaker, Schmidt seemed a bit hesitant to take on the topic of Facebook's new messaging system, which was announced just down the street earlier in the day.

"More competition is always good because it makes the market larger," Schmidt said. "As a group, you all are focused on the competition rather than the market getting larger. It brings more people in. We are all served by having everybody in the world get online."

However, industry analysts have noted that the new Facebook Messages, which includes offering users a Facebook.com e-mail address, could take a bite out of Gmail's user base.

If Facebook goes on to beef up this new e-mail and messaging offering, some of the social network's 500 million users could jump Google's ship and align themselves with Facebook.

And Gmail is an integral part of Google's tool box of consumer and enterprise-based applications.

Schmidt declined to talk about Facebook or its new messaging system directly. "We're actually pretty happy with Gmail," he said. "Right now, it's all about its terrific, wonderful growth. People use Gmail because of its speed and its searchability. Its core design has been around speed and searchability."

"Gmail is doing very well. We're happy to have the market expand," Schmidt said.

'The Creepy Line' explained

Google's CEO also took on the issue of privacy and even commented on some of the statements he made about it -- statements that he says have been misunderstood.

Google's CEO was asked directly about a comment he was quoted as making last month at the Newseum. "There is what I call 'the creepy line,'" The Hill quoted Schmidt as saying. "The Google policy on a lot of things is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it."

Today, Schmidt took on that comment and defended himself and Google's thinking about "the creepy line."

"There clearly is a line we should not cross," he said. "There are many, many examples, like the technology for real-time tracking. With Google Earth, we don't show images in real-time so there can be no tracking. We're saying there are lines that should not be crossed."

Data portability feud

Google's CEO also addressed a recent feud that the company has been in with Facebook over the portability of user data.

The issue boils down to the ability to move user data back and forth between Web services, such as Google's Gmail and Facebook. Google has warned users about what the company calls the risks of moving data from Gmail to Facebook because Facebook does not make it easy for users to move information out of its system.

"One of the fundamental principles of the Internet is that it's open. There's all this information and people should be able to move it around," Schmidt said. "I think, in general, we've taken the position that user data is the user's. And it should be able to be moved back and forth."

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 sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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