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Schmidt talks privacy, mobile payments

Wed, 06/01/2011 - 8:00am
Andrew Berg, Wireless Week

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt yesterday took the stage at the ninth-annual All Things D conference, where he showcased Google's Mobile Offers service and talked security and privacy with hosts Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg.

It was just last week that Google announced its new NFC-based Google Wallet and Mobile Offers products. Mobile Offers launches today in limited markets.

While demonstrating Google Offers, Stephanie Tilenius, vice president of commerce for Google, said that Google is not really in competition with anyone in the mobile payment and couponing space because of the comprehensive approach that it has taken, according to a video of the presentation posted at All Things Digital.  

"There's no one actually doing this exact product," she said, adding that the company has been working on its NFC solution for a long time now. "I think this is unique in the sense that we're combining offers and payments at the point of sale."

Schmidt said that for the time being, the system will only work with Android phones, but the company plans on adding other platforms in the future. He also said that users will be able to add NFC functionality to their phones simply by adding a sticker to their phones. The sticker will contain an NFC chip that will then communicate with an app loaded on the phone.

Tilenius showed how Google Offers will work at a local level, demonstrating a Groupon-like offer that is downloaded to the phone and then redeemed when the user pays by tapping the point of sale terminal.

After the demonstration, Schmidt sat down with Swisher and Mossberg to cover issues regarding privacy and security, which Google has been relentlessly questioned about at recent Senate hearings.

"The simple answer about privacy is Google will remain a place where you can do anonymous searches – we don't know anything about you – and we're very committed to the idea that you have control over the information we have about you," Schmidt said.

Schmidt noted that Google's "privacy dashboard" allows users to see what information is being stored on the company's servers and control whether or not they want to keep it there. He said Google keeps information on its servers somewhere between 12 to 18 months, "which is roughly what regulators want."

Swisher noted a conversation she'd had with Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who called Android phones "a probe in your pocket," claiming the devices report mobile location information directly back to Google's servers and employ it in their search business.

Schmidt refuted the claim. "We don't take the information that your phone generates about your location and suck it into search," Schmidt said.

The conversation spiraled into how mobile technology and technology in general will affect the global population in the next 5 to 10 years. Schmidt said Google has been working on face-recognition technology, but the company decided not to release it for fears that it could be used by dictators to control people.

"I'm very concerned about the union of mobile tracking and face recognition, because mobile tracking is something that can occur naturally by virtue of these devices," Schmidt said, adding that when facial recognition is added to the equation, the technology could be used to track and imprison dissidents of an oppressive regime.

Schmidt said Europe is already in the process of figuring out how to regulate such technologies.

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