Web search leader Google Inc., which stores vast amounts of data on the Web surfing habits of its users, sees government intrusions rather than accidental public disclosures of data as the greatest threat to online privacy, its chief executive said on Wednesday.
CEO Eric Schmidt told the Search Engine Strategies industry conference here that Google had put all necessary safeguards in place to protect its users' personal data from theft or accidental release. His remarks followed last weekend's discovery by online privacy sleuths that AOL, a key Google search customer, had mistakenly released personally identifiable data on 20 million keyword searches by its users.
But Schmidt said a more serious threat to user privacy lay in potential demands on Google by governments to make the company give up data on its customer's surfing habits.
"You can never say never," Schmidt said during an onstage interview with Web search industry analyst Danny Sullivan.
"The more interesting question is not an accidental error but something where a government, not just the U.S. government but maybe a non-U.S. government would try to get in (Google's computer systems)," Schmidt said.
Google won kudos earlier this year from privacy advocates for going to court to block a U.S. government request for data on Google users. Schmidt warned that such intrusions could occur again.