Slashdot reported today that Google is not talking to CNET until July 2006 in protest over an article published by the online publication which included personal information about Google CEO Eric Schmidt. I’ll leave the comments about the validity of each side’s argument to others, but I wanted to highlight something which John Battelle picked up in his reaction, “that a search engine never gives a full or necessarily accurate picture of the person.”
The original CNET article uses Schmidt’s publicly-available information as a sensational teaser, but then goes on to explain that the more potentially dangerous situation is the information that Google collects and doesn’t make public. While I understand why that is a concern, I believe that the dissemination of partial and incremental already public information is a greater threat in the near term. There are many public relations controls that will inhibit a highly visible company like Google from grossly misusing the information that they posses.
But personal publicly available information is not only becoming easier to retrieve, but also more widely available. Yes, search engines have exposed a set of information that was available previously, but would have been cumbersome to practically seek out. As we move further along in Web 2.0, new technologies will make this issue increasingly salient. Perhaps everything available about you online will soon be tagged with your name on del.icio.us (as George Bush is today). Or any photo taken of you could be found on Flickr. The rise of user-generated content opens the possibility a wealth of potential information about someone – perhaps out-of-context or misrepresented – available to anyone with a few keystrokes and clicks of the mouse.
In previous post entitled Knowing Your (Incremental) Online Reputation, I made that case that “your online reputation does matter, and I’d argue it will increasingly do so.” Today’s concern originated over personal information about a celebrity CEO; tomorrow’s could be over non-famous people with an incomplete or inaccurate online presence.