Google’s Schmidt on Questions Surrounding Search Rankings

Google’s Schmidt on Questions Surrounding Search Rankings

October 22, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


bjbjLULU JUDY WOODRUFF: And to our conversation
with one of the leaders in the tech world. Eric Schmidt is the executive chairman of
Google, a man very much in the spotlight, and a prominent supporter of President Obama,
whose company remains on the hot seat in Washington from regulators and Congress. Google is being
investigated by the Federal Trade Commission as to whether it may be violating anti-trust
law in how it ranks websites when consumers do searches. Gwen Ifill asked Eric Schmidt
about all this at the Newseum in Washington this afternoon as part of the Atlantic and
Aspen Ideas Forum. Here’s a part of that conversation. GWEN IFILL: Last week, you were here in Washington.
You were testifying before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. How was it being hauled before
Congress and basically being told that you had cooked your search results? ERIC SCHMIDT,
Executive Chairman, Google: Well, we, of course, said we had not. I assure you, we have not
cooked anything, was my response. I think in many ways it’s been good, at least so far,
because it’s made the company clear — more clearly articulate how we make our decisions
and in particular publicly describe that, which is to focus on consumers. So, so far,
I think it’s overall been positive. And I should say, by the way, that the government
has a role here. This is their job to do, and so we have to respect that. GWEN IFILL:
Well, let’s talk about the government’s role, because a lot of the members of Congress who
were grilling you last week made it clear to that on some level, this — Democrats and
Republicans, that Google scares them. Why shouldn’t it? ERIC SCHMIDT: We make decisions
based on what our testing indicates consumers want in terms of a global search engine. I
do understand that Google ranks information, and there’s winners and losers. And those
decisions have significant impact on people. So the word scares is their word, not mine.
On the other hand, we provide a free and important service to an awful lot of people, and we
take great pride in doing it right. GWEN IFILL: Questions about search dominance, questions
about copyright, questions about privacy, how do you begin to tackle all those when
you’re now obviously the subject of a Federal Trade Commission investigation? ERIC SCHMIDT:
Well, so far, our answer has been that the principles that we founded the company on
seem to be working, and brought in open access to information, try to be as transparent as
possible, all the kinds of things that we have said over and over again. On privacy,
we have taken a pretty strong position that privacy is important, that you should have
as much control over privacy as possible. And again we also understand that an awful
lot of data is being connected about — collected about you. So in each of those cases, I think
my personal reaction was that this is the right thing for an antitrust committee to
be doing. They should be asking these questions. But it’s also important to remember that there
haven’t been accusations about Google from either the Europeans or the FTC yet. This
is the beginning of listening, if you will. And so I think we should reserve judgment
until we actually hear if there’s any alleged violations of any other rules. GWEN IFILL:
You know, there has been a discussion going on here for some time about whether tech industries
get Washington or Washington gets the tech industry. It took Microsoft a while to realize
it. Bill Gates was hauled before a commission here, a committee here not — maybe a dozen
years ago. Now Google was here. The word is that you resisted the idea of coming here
to actually testify. How important is Washington to Google or to the tech industry and vice
versa? ERIC SCHMIDT: Well, Washington is the government and, therefore, they can screw
us up. So, that’s the simple starting point. And, historically, the high-tech industry
has largely ignored Washington. And in the last 10 years, after Microsoft’s experience,
I think everybody sort of figured out that it was important to have representatives here
and so forth. Most of the tech companies, including — including Google, have tried
to stay in the lobbying-for-ideas phase, as opposed to lobbying for specific sentences
written in specific bills. And that seems more palatable to the way we all operate.
And most of the tech companies agree, for example, with the kinds of things that I’m
talking about. Most tech companies agree with the importance of broadband, policies that
accelerate broadband help America, things like accelerated R&D tax credit and those
sorts of things. These are all export businesses. They’re all growing. GWEN IFILL: You have
said that business can create jobs if consumer demand comes back; that’s our basic problem
here. Does government have a role in that? ERIC SCHMIDT: Well, government has a huge
contribution to the economic situation in America. And everybody understands this. Government
is both a standard-setter in terms of purchasing, as well as a regulator and so forth. It’s
very important to understand that we’re stuck at the moment. We’re growing at 1 percent
to 2 percent in terms of economic growth. That growth is not enough to overcome the
natural improvements in business productivity that are occurring without additional jobs.
In my view, it is sort of a national emergency, that we need to get the growth of the company
as measured by GDP or something like that going faster. That’s something which we all
participate in. The jobs are created by the private sector. The wealth is created by the
private sector. We have proven as a country that we can create enormous numbers of such
companies and wealth and people and so forth. It’s been the mainstay of post-war — post-war
in the United States. So we need to have that conversation. And instead the conversation
is about an awful lot of other things. That’s the central issue. How do we get our growth
rate to 3 percent to 4 percent to 5 percent? It should be possible. GWEN IFILL: But when
the administration says in its jobs bill that it would actually like to increase taxes on
the wealthiest, is that a job-destroying proposition, as Republicans argue? ERIC SCHMIDT: Looking
at the math, that particular component doesn’t matter very much in my argument. And I’m not
going to make a political argument. I will make a policy argument. That number is a relatively
small number compared to the overall tax policy issues across the other 98 percent and so
forth. That’s more of a justice and political question than an incentive question. GWEN
IFILL: Would you like to see your taxes raised? ERIC SCHMIDT: In my case, it’s not a particularly
big issue. GWEN IFILL: Because? ERIC SCHMIDT: Because it wouldn’t change my behavior. But,
for other people, it might. But on a personal — but my personal view of that is not very
important. What is important is, how do we get the productive parts of America working
harder, with greater exports, with more investment, in the things that will grow the economy?
That’s the only conversation that matters. Everything else solves itself with growth.
GWEN IFILL: If there is going to be growth, it seems that it is in social media. And Google
is playing on that field as well. Is — does social media have the potential of completely
transforming the way we communicate? ERIC SCHMIDT: Well, in many ways, it already has.
One of the questions is what are we going to do as a society with all those 16-year-olds’
posts when all those people are 36? It’s pretty clear to me there’s going to be a law which
says you can’t discriminate against people based on their pictures below age 18. There
will be additional sort of civil rights sort of acts around teenagers. GWEN IFILL: One
can only hope. ERIC SCHMIDT: Well, there’s going to have to be, based on my personal
inspection. (LAUGHTER) ERIC SCHMIDT: So we already know it’s transforming it. And we
know that if you look at Facebook, which I think is arguably now the most successful
of the online sites in that regard, look at the level of activity, it’s really extraordinary
how much time people are spending on those. GWEN IFILL: Did you miss the boat as CEO at
Google on the social media explosion? ERIC SCHMIDT: We were late to this. We were focused
on other things. And you sit down as CEO and you say, like, why didn’t we focus more on
that? Well, we were busy on this, this, this, this, which did really well. And so now we
have a product called Google Plus, which is doing extremely well, which looks like a worthwhile
competitor in a slightly different space, with more privacy controls, for example, than
Facebook. GWEN IFILL: So you can beat Facebook at its own game? ERIC SCHMIDT: It’s very hard
to beat a fast-moving incumbent in exactly same game in technology because it changes
so quickly. What you have to do is you have to find a new problem and do that much better
than they are, and that’s what we’re trying to do. And if you do that, you can ultimately
win very large. GWEN IFILL: I’m on Twitter. I try to be up on all the stuff the kids are
talking about. But I wonder the degree to which social media enhances what we already
believe and even searches, rather than expanding the conversation. ERIC SCHMIDT: Well, that
question has been raised for the last hundred years about communications technology. And
I have learned to not have an opinion on how people choose to spend their time. We just
want to spend them — have them spend more time on Google doing it. (LAUGHTER) ERIC SCHMIDT:
So it’s pretty simple. We are not going to make a decision as to whether this is a good
use of people’s time or not. It’s always alarming to me that people text message. They don’t
talk on the phone anymore. And people actually have forgotten how to leave voice messages
on phones. It’s sort of shocking, right? GWEN IFILL: They have forgotten how to check them
as well. ERIC SCHMIDT: That’s right. (LAUGHTER) ERIC SCHMIDT: So these are — this is sort
of the norm of how society moves forward. What I will tell you… GWEN IFILL: Is that
a good — is that good? ERIC SCHMIDT: I would say, overall, this is extraordinarily good.
And I want to push back very hard on sort of the critics of this and say, look, you
were worried about where your teenager is. Now we know where they are. They’re in their
room online. It’s a much safer place than a lot of other places your teenager can be.
Point one. GWEN IFILL: Well, there are those who would argue that point, but OK. ERIC SCHMIDT:
Lock the door. Trust me. We at least know where they are. The second point I would make
about it is that communication is what humans do. And the sense of community, the sense
of reach, the sense of wonder that you can build out of these online communities is really
very nice. In terms of discovery and knowing things and so forth, we at Google can use
that information with your permission on our opt-in basis, I might add, to give you much
better recommendations. So, for example, if you tell us who your friends are, we can give
you better YouTube recommendations. GWEN IFILL: But if we tell you who our friends are, you
can give it away. ERIC SCHMIDT: We choose not to, and we state that we won’t. And that’s
in our privacy policy. And you should inform yourself when you give that sort of information
to any company, what are they going to do with it? GWEN IFILL: Eric Schmidt, thank you
very much. (APPLAUSE) urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags place urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
country-region urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags State JUDY WOODRUFF: And to our conversation
with one of the leaders in the tech world Normal Microsoft Office Word JUDY WOODRUFF:
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