Google’s Eric Schmidt: ‘keep the internet open to encourage innovation’

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt says it is important “not to overreact” and prevent people and companies from sharing data, in order to encourage innovation.

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Giving the keynote MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival this weekend (26 August), as Google looks to secure partners for its upcoming internet TV service, Schmidt said it was vital the internet is kept “open”.

“To be clear, I’m not suggesting a completely laissez-faire approach is appropriate… but when legislators try to figure out how to minimise the harm of online content, technology solutions rather than laws should be their first thought,” he added.

Google has often come under criticism from international governments and authorities, including the European Union, for not taking the necessary actions to protect people’s data on services such as Street View and its surveillance of WiFi networks.

Schmidt said that similar “micro-regulation” applies to broadcasters and urged the TV industry to cut back on some of the “market-distorting constraints”, as internet companies begin to enter the fray.

He drew on Ofcom’s current investigation into TV ad trading and said it was now time, in today’s “tough climate”, to make things easier for ad-funded broadcasters to compete in the global marketplace.

“For example, removing market-distorting constraints like CRR rules that straitjacket ITV,” he added.

Schmidt said that despite the UK advertising industry being “world leading”, it does not get “championed” by policy makers.

“Just imagine if Facebook had to endure regulation like you face in TV… there’d be rulings to enforce diversity of wall posts, with quotas for religion and education – and you could forget about ’poking’ before the watershed.”

Schmidt confirmed in his lecture that Google TV will be launching in Europe in “early 2012”, with the UK market as “among the top priorities” for the service. He implored the TV executives listening to his speech to “think big, think global, and think beyond the TV box” in a bid to attract them to the venture.

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