Google to Snub CNET Reporters for CEO Disclosure

Madeleine Brand speaks with Day to Day technology correspondent Xeni Jardin about a budding dispute between the CNET tech news site and search engine giant Google. CNET published personal information about Google's CEO in a recent article, and Google responded by declaring it wouldn't speak to CNET reporters for a year.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And, finally, the practice has become so common it's a verb. To Google means to check something or someone out on the Internet. But it's kind of unnerving to actually be Googled, and that's what happened to Google's own CEO. Technology news site CNET says that when it published an article containing personal details about the CEO, details it got from Google, Google retaliated, declaring that it would not speak to CNET reporters for an entire year. And here with more is DAY TO DAY tech correspondent Xeni Jardin.

And, Xeni, what happened?

XENI JARDIN reporting:

Well, it all goes back to a CNET story in July. The article reports that the information Google gives out is nothing compared to the volume of data it gathers for its own databases. To illustrate the concern, CNET reporter Elinor Mills revealed some personal data about Google's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, based on the results of Google searches.

BRAND: Such as?

JARDIN: The $1.5 billion value of his company's shares, his wife's name, his home neighborhood, the fact that he hosted a $10,000-a-plate fund-raiser for Al Gore's presidential campaign, even the name of the song Al and Tipper Gore danced to at that event; the fact that Schmidt is an amateur pilot and went to Burning Man--I mean, nothing too scandalous, but if it's about you, it feels creepy.

BRAND: Yeah. And so it seems pretty obvious that he was not too pleased with that.

JARDIN: That's what it looks like. Google refuses to talk to any press about this incident, including us. So we don't know the whole story or why several weeks lapsed between the dates CNET published the story and the date Google iced them out like a bad liver. But a New York Times article reported that Google's PR director, David Crane, phoned CNET editors to complain, then called again to say Google wouldn't talk with CNET reporters until August 2006.

BRAND: So I understand Google is now taking some heat for that.

JARDIN: Correct. The company's motto is Don't Be Evil. And I spoke to a longtime Silicon Valley reporter Dan Gilmore. Here's what he said about whether Google's blacklisting CNET crosses that line.

Mr. DAN GILMORE (Silicon Valley Reporter): I don't think it's evil for someone to refuse to talk to the press. I don't think it's very productive. So Google is a very young company, and they're kind of acting their age right now.

BRAND: Wow. That's not very nice. But, Xeni, refusing to talk to the press--that happens all the time.

JARDIN: Yeah, but search is what this company does, and critics say, you know, what's good for the goose is good for the Google. And many bloggers quip that, `Look, if your stock price soars to $291 a share because you make information free, hey, no whining when some of that information turns out to be your own.'

BRAND: So this seems like bad PR for Google. What could fix that situation?

JARDIN: Well, I asked Dan Gilmore that question. Here's what he said.

Mr. GILMORE: If I were their PR folks, I would say, `Let's go back to CNET, let's sit down and be like adults and talk about it and see if we can come to some resolution.' What I would also do is try to make the rest of us understand a little bit better what actually went on.

BRAND: So, Xeni, what's next?

JARDIN: Well, sources I reached who are close to the matter say they expect the companies to follow some of Gilmore's advice and resolve this in private well before August 2006.

BRAND: Xeni Jardin is DAY TO DAY's tech and culture correspondent. Thanks, Xeni.

JARDIN: Thank you, Madeleine.

(Credits)

BRAND: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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