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Google's Larry Page on Internet Privacy: Don't Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater

Larry Page praises the value of sharing, when done right.

James Duncan Davidson/Flickr/TedConference

Google CEO Larry Page was hesitant to tell the world about the medical condition that was hurting his ability to speak, but publicly sharing his voice troubles helped him realize the value of openness. Thousands of people with similar conditions replied to him online.

If people could only share their medical records anonymously — and if research doctors could find them online and connect to the patients — Page estimates that 100,000 lives could be saved this year.

That same premise should apply to online privacy, Page said in an onstage interview with Charlie Rose at the TED conference in Vancouver today.

Page said, “I’m just very worried that with Internet privacy, we’re doing the same thing we’re doing with medical records, we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. We’re not thinking about the tremendous good that can come from people sharing the right information with the right people in the right ways.”

Sure, privacy is a big and valid issue. “The world is changing. When you carry a phone, it knows where you are,” Page said. “There’s so much more information about you. It makes sense why people are asking difficult questions. And I think the main thing we need to do is just provide people choice. Show them what data’s being collected, their search history, location data. We’re excited about incognito mode in Chrome, and doing that in more ways. But just giving people more choice and awareness of what’s going on.”

Page, who also spoke about advances in artificial intelligence and Internet access, was the latest technology leader to castigate government surveillance. His co-founder Sergey Brin had posed for a virtual photo op with Edward Snowden, who beamed in via telepresence robot to TED on Tuesday.

“You can’t have privacy without security,” Page said.

“I don’t think we can have a democracy if we have to protect our users from the government [and] from stuff that we never had a conversation about,” he said. “We need to know what the parameters of it is, what the surveillance is going to do, and how and why. The government did itself a tremendous disservice by doing that all in secret. … I think we need to have a debate about that, or we can’t have a functioning democracy.”

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