Google's Schmidt warns of software that 'silently deletes our voices'

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"They're skipping dial-up modems, DSL lines and broadband. They're going straight to mobile devices," Schmidt said. "Imagine in the future, the poor of the world will have a supercomputer and a really smart sidekick rolled into one in their phone."

He said expanding Internet access will increase economic opportunities and will help citizens see through government propaganda. 

He pointed to images coming out of Syria that put the president's "brutality on display for all to see."

But Schmidt warned that authoritarian countries like China could use filtering software to quietly block Internet content. 

"Filtering technology will inevitably become more effective, and we face the very real possibility that we could end up living in a society in which software silently deletes our voices, our thoughts and our culture," Schmidt said.

But he also acknowledged policymakers will need to find better ways to combat criminals online.

"When we built the Internet we didn't think [criminals] were going to show up," Schmidt said. "Honestly, I helped, I know."

He pointed to the lack of a "delete button" as another problem for the Internet, explaining that, in the past, a false accusation in a person's youth would fade away, but now the accusation can remain online forever.

"Much of the existing privacy debate centers on the tension between the public's right to know and the very important right of individual privacy," Schmidt said.

He said he hoped that better search-ranking formulas could help to reduce the problem.

Lawmakers and privacy advocates have criticized Google for its handling of user data, and in particular, updates to its privacy policy this month that allow it to share user information across its various services, such as YouTube and Gmail.