In his letter on privacy shared last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook contrasted the business model of Apple against that of its competitors while strongly taking a shot at Google, Gmail, and Android without actually naming the company and services. The infinitely entertaining executive chairman of Google and former Apple board member Eric Schmidt was recently asked by ABC News about Cook’s open letter on the company and privacy.
In short, Schmidt, who is making the media rounds to promote his upcoming book How Google Works, said Cook’s description of Google and privacy is incorrect, which you would expect from the Google chairman. But his first shot at debunking Cook’s claim was sort of out of left field (okay, as you also might expect):
Eric Schmidt: I think that’s not quite right. The fact of the matter is Google allows you to delete the information that we know about you. In fact, Google is so concerned about privacy that you can in fact be using Chrome for example you can browse in what is called Incognito Mode, where no one sees anything about you. So I just don’t think that’s right.
Rebecca Jarvis: You think he’s incorrect in saying so?
Eric Schdmit: That’s correct.
Incognito mode?! The privacy setting you use to hide your browsing history when you’re, ahem, planning a top secret surprise vacation with your significant other that you don’t want revealed in your search results? That’s Schmidt’s response to Cook’s suggestion that Google doesn’t value your privacy?
As a refresher, here is the relevant excerpt from Tim Cook’s open letter on privacy:
A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.
Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.
Not that ‘incognito mode’ isn’t valuable and without merit in terms of privacy, but it’s hardly a differentiating factor between the two companies and tiny part of the big picture that Cook was describing. Also interesting in the context of Schmidt’s line of defense is the history section of the Wikipedia entry for ‘privacy mode’:
The earliest reference to the term was in May 2005 and used to discuss the privacy features in the Safari browser bundled with Mac OS X Tiger. The feature has since been adopted in other browsers, and led to popularisation of the term in 2008 by mainstream news outlets and computing websites when discussing beta versions of Internet Explorer 8.
However, privacy modes operate as shields because browsers typically do not remove all data from the cache after the session. Plugins, like Silverlight, are able to set cookies that will not be removed after the session. Internet Explorer 8 also contains a feature called InPrivate Subscriptions, an RSS web feed with sites approved for use with InPrivate browsing.
Okay, so not so Chrome-specific (aside from the naming) and maybe not so private. Chrome admits as much when entering the privacy mode (admittedly, I do miss the line where it says it doesn’t protect you from the people behind you):
At any rate, here’s good ol’ Schmidt in action:
See also: Cook’s discussion on privacy during his interview with Charlie Rose where he did name Google as what comes to mind when he thinks of Apple’s competition (hence the slight back and forth between the CEO and the executive chairman) and the rest of our Talking Schmidt series.