CeBit 2012 – Merkel versus Google

merkel schmidt
merkel schmidt

Angela Merkel and Eric Schmidt kicked off this year’s CeBit 2012 ceremony yesterday with the German Chancellor issuing some stern words of warning for the Google Chief regarding his company’s recent changes to privacy policy that may breach EU legislation.

merkel schmidt


“Data must remain safe”

Merkel stated that while technology enters evermore into our daily life, security of personal data is of utmost importance: “You have to be sure that the data does not disappear and is used by others,” a statement that is especially pertinent to Schmidt, given Google’s latest controversial changes to customer’s rights regarding their personal information.

Placing trust in digital products

The CeBit 2012 keynote was named “Managing Trust,” an issue that has been at the forefront of the digital consciousness this year so far after protests against the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) rose up in Germany.

Merkel also stated that in order for Germany to ready itself for the demands of a digital future, its citizens must educate themselves on how to responsibly use technology and the data it generates. “The more automatic and self-evident using the internet becomes,” she continued, “the more trust one has to be able to place” in digital products.

Schmidt’s Google utopia

Google boss Schmidt countered Merkel’s cautionary statements with a carefully phrased vision of a digital utopia, where Google would become the doorkeeper against online censorship. He reiterated the company’s mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.

“In times of war or suffering, it will not be possible to ignore the images that come out,” he said. “It will be far easier for communities to mobilize against autocratic regimes.”

Of course, Google has a vested interest in seeing universally available information, given that it has just rationalised over 60 privacy policies across its products to facilitate easier cross-linking and advertising for clients, a move which the EU’s Justice Commissioner had called into question last week.

An ongoing battle seems set to ensue between EU privacy legislation and US data privacy regulation, the latter of which favours companies and opt-out clauses rather than consumer rights and opt-in values.

Trust equals economic growth

Ernst Raue of CeBit organisers Deutsche Messe threw a broader economic perspective into the debate, citing a trust that both parties could agree on: “The greater the trust in the solutions and applications of the international ICT industry, the faster the global economy can grow. Trust is not a soft factor – it is an essential pillar of economic activity that must be firmly established and maintained.”

What do you think? Is Google’s real aim more to do with affiliate sales than fighting censorship? And who would win in a fight between Merkel and Schmidt?