/ 22 March 2013

Google warns on China’s attempts to control the internet

Executive chairperson of Google Eric Schmidt.
Executive chairperson of Google Eric Schmidt.

In an interview with the Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger at the Big Tent Activate Summit in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, Schmidt spoke of his concern about reports from the New York Times last month that its computers had been invaded by Chinese hackers.

"As the internet has emerged in many of these different countries, there's a few countries that have no laws at all and those internets tend to be free and open and anything goes," he said, adding that there were also states that attempt to supress information online " … China being the most egregious example".

Asked about his views on the privacy of citizens online, Schmidt gave the example of Chinese dissidents who may wish to speak in confidence to a newspaper to reveal sensitive information.

"I'm not going to ask about the Guardian, but how would you feel if the Chinese had just hacked into the New York Times and gone through the servers and you were Chinese dissidents and had indeed done that?" he told the summit.

"My point here is that this [ability to intrude on privacy] is going to happen because the value of the internet is so profound and positive, but we've got to recognise the issues and get ahead of it by discussion."

Schmidt's remarks are likely to inflame already tense relations between Washington and Beijing over allegations of cyber-warfare.

On Wednesday, South Korea said it had traced a coordinated cyber-attack targeting banks and media firms to China, whose new premier, Li Keqiang, earlier this week said that states should "not make groundless accusations against each other".

'The most sophisticated'
The interview comes a month after it was revealed that Schmidt makes his sharpest criticism of China yet in his new book, The New Digital Age, which is due to be released in April. The Google chairperson describes China as "the world's most active and enthusiastic filterer of information" and "the most sophisticated and prolific" hacker of foreign companies.

Speaking in India on Thursday, Schmidt flatly denied speculation that he is attempting to position himself for a job in the US government. Asked by Rusbridger whether he would take such a role, Schmidt replied: "No, never. Government people have a very hard job. I much prefer this job, it's much easier."

Speculation about a White House move has increased in recent months following Schmidt's trips to North Korea and Burma as an advocate for the open internet, coupled with his decision to shed 42% of his Google stock. He was replaced as chief executive of the internet giant in April 2011, as co-founder Larry Page sought to refocus the business on key areas, such as its Android smartphone software, Chrome web browser and search.

In the wide-ranging interview before India's internet pioneers, Schmidt touched on his thoughts on soon-to-be-killed Google Reader ("I do love Google Reader, but we had priorities") and Apple's iPad Mini ("Too small").

On the future funding models for newspapers, Schmidt singled out Politico, a Washington website which runs a hybrid of free and subscription-only sites for policy junkies, as a potential model for newspapers.

Last week Politico announced it had 1 000 subscribers paying upwards of $8 000 a year and was launching a quarterly print publication. Referring to newspapers, he also said it was "a reasonable prediction is that incumbent businesses who already have subscribers will transition them into online subscribers". – Guardian News and Media 2013