Google: Eric Schmidt hints at China ambitions

Eric Schmidt of Google: ''I have always been the person who believes the most in expanding into China''

Eric Schmidt - stepping aside as chief executive of Google - has told the BBC he has ambitions to promote the web firm's business in China.

Among other tasks, Mr Schmidt hopes to find a Chinese partner for Google's Android mobile phone operating system.

He noted that he was the most pro-China of Google's triumvirate leadership.

In March last year Google stopped co-operating with China over censorship - a joint decision that Mr Schmidt said he was happy with.

"Over time I would hope - especially in my new role with more of an external focus - that I can try to get more of Google, appropriately and within our policies, into China," he told the BBC's economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Unruffled reshuffle

It was revealed earlier this month that Mr Schmidt, 55, would make way as chief executive for Larry Page, 37, who co-founded Google with Sergey Brin.

"Between the three of us, I have always been the person who believes the most in expanding into China," he claimed.

Mr Schmidt will remain as "executive chairman", a role he said would be two-thirds external and one-third internal, with most of his time devoted to customers and partners.

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The general view in Silicon Valley these days is that Google is rather too grown up.”

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Referring to the Davos shindig, he said that "the great regret is that there are not more Chinese leaders here - both political leaders as well as business leaders" - in contrast with the number of Indian attendees.

He said Google's leadership reshuffle was a "clarification of roles" intended "simply so that we could make decisions more quickly".

He denied that the change was due to a lack of innovation at the company, although he conceded there had been a sense that decision-making was taking too long.

Cultural sensitivities

Mr Schmidt spoke about the importance to the company of taking into consideration the cultural sensitivities of different countries.

"It makes sense to me that governments will play a role in watching what we do," he said, referring to anti-trust and privacy concerns.

He cited the example of Germany, where there was particular concern about Google's plan to photograph the roadside facade of every house in the country for its Streetview database.

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We have been late at adding social capabilities to our core products”

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The firm offered German homeowners the right to opt out before the pictures were even taken, and nearly 3% duly did that.

But despite this initial opposition, "Germany is the second-highest user on a percentage basis of Streetview of any country in the world," he said. "We know that German consumers really love our product."

On Wikileaks, Mr Schmidt said the company had decided to make leaked documents searchable via its website, irrespective of the US government's opinion, because they believed there was no legal threat to them under American law.

As for China, he said there were "censorship laws that we simply do not like", causing the company to relocate to Hong Kong last year.

Google is still censored by the Beijing authorities - without Google's co-operation - via the "Great Firewall of China".

But Mr Schmidt said that the arrangement was "stable" for them, and appeared to be the same for China, who recently renewed their licence.

However, he cautioned that China could "arbitrarily cut it off at any point".

Face-off?

The Google executive chairman rejected suggestions that the company had lost its edge.

From left to right: Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page The Google triumvirate (from left): Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page

"We are the innovator and leader at scale," he said, citing among others its maps products and its new Chrome operating system.

But he admitted that social networks like Facebook might have stolen a march on the company.

"We have been late at adding social capabilities to our core products," he said, despite claiming that the search engine was still experiencing high growth precisely because they continued adding innovations to it.

He dismissed Facebook as a threat to the company and was poaching staff: "We hire more people in a week than the total number of people who have left to go to Facebook."

But he criticised social networks for being "walled gardens" - shielding its members' data from search engines like Google's - claiming their consumers would be better off if more information were disclosed.

"These closed systems of information threaten to some degree the... openness and accessibility of the [web]," he said.

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