While not quite a moving apology, Google CEO Eric Schmidt's admission to the Financial Times that the company made mistakes in collecting data from private Wi-Fi networks is about as close as we're likely to get.
"We screwed up," he said about the interception of personal data by Google's Street View cars. "Let's be very clear about that. If you are honest about your mistakes it is the best defense for it not happening again."
So it's perhaps with "honesty is the best policy" in mind that Schmidt pinned the blame on a single engineer who was responsible for the code. The engineer, who is under investigation, according to Schmidt, inserted the Wi-Fi data-collecting code without informing colleagues.
But is Google's culture, in which engineers are famously unrestrained, part of the problem? Google engineers are encouraged to spend one-fifth of their work time cultivating pet projects. On Google's Web site, the company notes that "20 percent time" means that its engineers are "free to work on what they're really passionate about. Google Suggest, AdSense for Content and Orkut are among the many products of this perk."
Another product of the policy -- though Schmidt wasn't sure whether it was a "20 percent time" effort by the engineer -- is apparently the interception of private data. After initial resistance, Google now says it will soon start giving that data to regulators in France, Spain and Germany, where the company is in particularly hot water.
The "20 percent" policy isn't going anywhere, though, and Google doesn't plan to perform audits on what its engineers are doing with that time. "It would be a terrible thing to put a chilling effect on creativity," Schmidt told the FT, though he did add that "we have to find a way to continue to be creative with some more oversight."
Addressing accusations of arrogance, Schmidt said: "The arrogance comes across because we try to do things for end-users against organized opposition from stakeholders that are unhappy -- and they paint us as arrogant. But I am sure that all successful organizations have some arrogance in them."Some would say that begins at the top. "We are in the information business and everyone has an opinion about information," said Schmidt. "But the laws are inconsistent."