Is Google’s Schmidt Just A Creepy Ice Cream Man?

An animated video of Google’s CEO as a creepy ice cream man makes a strong impression, but are privacy advocates just fighting the future, asks Clint Boulton

Consumer Watchdog is ratcheting up its rhetoric in a move to get US Congress to investigate Google over data privacy concerns.

The advocate group released a devastating video of Google CEO Eric Schmidt as a creepy ice cream man giving free ice cream to children and conducting full body scans with Google Analytics.

Who knew that traffic measurement and click-through data suite had got so advanced?

Here’s the full video:

Unsavory connotations

Having this go viral on YouTube is bad enough, but a 15-second clip of this longer video is being aired 36 times a day on a jumbotron in Times Square in New York City.

On a practical level, if I’m Schmidt, I’m pretty POed about this. Any time you put a middle-aged man with an evil grin like that in an ice cream truck surrounded by children, it’s going to connote unsavory deeds.

Doesn’t matter if it’s a cartoon, and this one is rife with the cartoon Schmidt grinning like the Cheshire cat and talking in a salacious tone.

While the video makes no secret of the Consumer Watchdog’s dislike for Google’s data collection foibles, which include the Google Buzz fiasco and the Google WiSpy snafu, it also shows – unwittingly or deliberately, I can’t tell – the agency’s contempt for Google users.

Indeed, if ice cream is a metaphor for Google’s “free” web services, the children in the cartoonish video are Google’s users.

In other words, Consumer Watchdog believes those who embrace Google are naive children.

Are we naive?

I like to believe most of us have more important things to worry about than how Internet companies are targeting us with advertising, but some folks treat it as the bane of our online existence.

While privacy has all the hues of a rainbow these days when it comes to web services, I’m definitely a black and white guy on this front. I don’t mind if Google collects data on me, or what I buy.

It’s how the data is used that matters to me. If it’s used to depict me in an unflattering light and makes me be someone I’m not, or if the data was made public to all, I’d be upset and shun Google. But I refuse to live in fear of that.

If the data is used to depict more accurate ads, that’s fine. I hardly notice the ads.

Case in point: Tuesday was the first time in recent memory I remember noticing a Gmail ad, and that was only because I spent a half hour playing with the new Priority Inbox feature.

Sure enough, there was an ad related to a purchase I made through The thing is, I know how it got there and why because I’m fluent in the way Google’s contextual keyword ads work.

It doesn’t bother me, partly because I know why it’s there. It’s the trade-off I committed to in using Google’s free ice cream web services. I’m no ignorant child, despite what my wife says.

Others may not realise the extent of Google’s data collection. Airing such a video and asking users to call Congress to set up a “Do Not Track Me” list (like the Do Not Call list) is a masterful stroke.

Behaving badly

It’s especially effective when you get the inside joke where the Evil Schmidt says that if there are things people don’t want made public, perhaps they shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

Schmidt actually said something to that effect in a TV interview that aired on CNBC last winter.

I had recorded the segment, which aired on a Thursday night, and almost fell out of my office chair the next morning when I watched it and heard Schmidt say:

“I think judgment matters. If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines – including Google – do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities.”

Those words, though perhaps taken out of context of a larger interview, showed an arrogant entitlement of user data.

That’s putty in the hands of organisations like the Consumer Watchdog, which uses it smartly to convey the idea that Google doesn’t value users’ privacy.

And this should strike a chord with people who cringe at the idea of Google being the arbiter of privacy online.

Is privacy dead? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely become selective thanks to daily digital surveillance, from physical cameras all over the commerce sector to footprint tracking online. People almost have to sneak around.

Targeting Google is one way advocates can fight the future, but in the end, that’s what it is: fighting the future. That’s a losing proposition no matter if and what Congress decides to do to curb online data collection and ads from Google, Facebook and others.