Google execs talk China, privacy, betting big

At shareholders' meeting, Page and Schmidt take questions on issues and talk up its 'leadership and product vision'

At Google's annual shareholders' meeting, company executives talked about censorship in China, Glass privacy issues and the need to bet big to win big.

Google's 2013 Annual Meeting of Stockholders, which was held at company headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., had executives like Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and CEO Larry Page talking about a range of topics, from the company's product vision and even Page's "toothpaste test."

"Larry likes the test he calls the toothpaste test," Schmidt told the audience of shareholders. "He said he wants to do products that people use once or twice a day -- products that fill important roles in people lives... The management team is really focused right now on execution and velocity."

Later, Schmidt was fielding a question from the audience about when Google would make a push to move back into China, when he said it simply won't happen until things change in that country.

"I recently visited China. It's an extraordinarily diverse and economically impressive country," said Schmidt. "But I was troubled by censorship and [the government] spying on citizens."

Google and China have what can easily be called a complex history. Early in 2010, Google squared off with China after a major cyberattack from within the country was launched against Google's computer systems, aiming directly for the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

In the wake of the attack, Google stopped censoring the search results of its users in China.

The two giants have not been able to work out an agreement since then. On Thursday, though, Schmidt said Google still has what he calls a successful business in China, with an engineering team there and advertising that is "growing nicely."

However, he wants things to change in China before they do any more there. "We want the Chinese government to stop censoring information, in particular political speech," Schmidt said. "I know that means we may not service these victims but we have some very strong principles about censorship."

Company executives also were faced with a question about privacy concerns surrounding Google Glass, its computerized eyeglasses that are still in the prototype phase.

"We've seen a lot of this kind of concern over unreleased products," said Page in response to a question. "People are worried about all kinds of things that when they start using it, they stop worrying about it."

Page added that Google is paying attention to many privacy issues surrounding Glass, and that the product hasn't been released yet.

"When you go into the bathroom, you don't collapse in terror that somebody might be using Glass in the bathroom, just like you wouldn't collapse in fear if somebody walked into the bathroom with their phone," said Page. "I would encourage you all not to create fear until it's out there being used and people can see what it's really like."

Creating Glass has been a big bet for Google, and Schmidt said that's exactly what they're looking for.

"We're using a language inside of Google about big bets, inspired by Larry who says we need to inspire greater," said Schmidt. "We're taking a long-term view and we're taking a long-term bet on our leadership and product vision. It's a leap of faith on our own part."

He noted that many people thought the search company was going off the rails when it came out with Gmail, its popular cloud-based email service. The same was said when the company bought YouTube.

While Google has failed with and shut down about 70 different projects, Schmidt said the company is willing to take a chance and make the big bets. It's the big bets that bring them the big wins. And Schmidt hopes that Glass and its self-driving car will be in that category.

"My grandchildren won't be fumbling in their pockets and purses for their devices," said Schmidt. "They won't be looking down. They'll be looking up. And some day I wonder if people won't marvel that we actually allowed humans to drive cars."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is

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