Talk about Daniel bearding the lions in their den! Last night night Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, stood before the assembled grandees of the industry at the GSMA's Mobile World Congress 2010 here in Barcelona and made explicit his company's ambitions to put mobile at the throbbing heart of the World Wide Web. Martyn Warwick reports.
In a prime example of the tradition of keeping your friends close but enemies closer, Mr. Schmidt was invited to make a "special" keynote address to an assembled multitude of what are probably his most implacable foes - the world's mobile operators and service providers.
In a lengthy and bland peroration, Mr. Schmidt told his audience that Google is now concentrating on mobile as "an urgent and primary focus" but kindly added that he doesn't really want to turn the world's cellular operators into "dumb data pipes". So that's alright then. Panic over. Not.
Despite the emollient words Mr. Schmidt used in responding to some hostile and pointed questions and interventions from the floor (to say that he actually "answered" questions would be gilding the lily rather more than somewhat), the operator community won't have been very reassured when they woke to another grey, damp and windy Catalonian morning. Probably the best thing to be said that at least it isn't quite as windy outside today as it was in the conference hall last night.
Accused last night of being an iconoclast working determinedly "to reduce the role of the operators in the market" and roundly accused pursuing a malign agenda via his company's perpetual (and perpetually hyped) objective of getting governments to mandate the so-called "open network" Schmidt was unapologetic about Google's long-term aims.
Using Google's latest buzz phrase (and I use the word "Buzz" advisedly), Eric Schmidt trotted out the word's "Mobile First" at every feasible (and sometime unfeasible) opportunity and proclaimed that three distinct factors - processing power, connectivity and "The Cloud" are now chiming in happy convergence on mobile devices.
"The phone is where these three all interconnect and you need to get these three waves right if you want to win". And Google wants to win alright, make no mistake about that.
During increasingly tetchy interventions, (that resulted in one questioner's microphone being switched off) Schmidt was accused of "playing a poker game" with the US mobile spectrum.
("Everyone was guessing you would invest in infrastructure, and then you pulled out at the last minute" observed one apparently surprised executive) and was asked "Who's going to make the investments in infrastructure in the future if the operators don't have the possibility of turning themselves into intelligent pipes?"
Mr. Schmidt's response was "In the first place, I feel very, very strongly that we depend on the successul businesses of the operators globally, and I disagree that we're trying to turn the operators into 'dumb pipes'. On the contrary, we need advanced networks that deal with, for instance, security, that deal with dynamic signaling, that can deal with load balancing."
Perceptive lad isn't he?
As for Google putting its money where it might best be invested - in infrastructure - Mr. Schmidt said that the company would be doing no such thing, not "on a broad-scale" any way. Why not? Here's the answer straight from the horse's mouth. "We will have the operators do it," said Eric.
You can see Mr. Scmidt's schtick in its entirety on Mobile World TV Live and Telecom TV. Just click on the links.
I think his current message can be best summed up as "We mean you no harm - but that might change."
Meanwhile, while Mr. Schmidt has been swanning around in Europe, there's trouble brewing back at home.
Yesterday a US pressure group devoted to the cause of privacy complained to the federal authorities that Google's new social networking service, Buzz is in direct and obvious violation of US consumer protection legislation.
As TelecomTV reported yesterday, Buzz has just been launched as an integral part of Gmail and the service has already come under intense criticism because its "auto-follow" feature automatically creates a ready-madeand public circle of friends (based on a users most frequent Gmail contacts) for you whether you like it or not.
So now the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has made official representation to the US Federal Trade Commission claiming that despite recent and cosmetic changes to the Buzz service Google remains in violation of privacy laws.
EPIC bases its complaint on the fact that Google automatically signs up Gmail users for Buzz, rather than users voluntarily "opting-in" for themselves. EPIC says that for Google to meet legal requirements it must make Buzz a "fully opt-in" service. It also wants Google to be prohibited from exploiting Gmail address book contacts to compile social networking lists.
Oh dear, there are just so many stumbling blocks on the march to total world domination.
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