Google’s Cerf: Social rules, not laws, will protect privacy

Social conventions, not regulations, will protect users’ privacy in a world of increased user data, Google Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf said Tuesday.

Rather than relying on regulations to protect privacy, people need “to develop social conventions that are more respectful of people’s privacy,” Cerf said during the Federal Trade Commission’s workshop on connected devices.


The FTC workshop discussed privacy concerns with connected devices, ranging from smartphones, to connect cars, to refrigerators that can alert their owners when they’re out of milk.

With the rise of connected devices, there will be a rise in user data, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said.

“With really big data, comes really big responsibility,” she said, encouraging companies that collect user data through connected devices to “embrace their role of stewards of the data they collect and use.”

Cerf acknowledged that this rise in data could be problematic for users’ privacy but said he thinks “that’s something we’re going to have to live through.”

“While regulation might be helpful, an awful lot of the problems that we experience with privacy is a result of our own behavior,” he said.

People may suffer in an increasingly connected world — including personal, professional or legal consequences — but “out of that may come some social practices that are more respectful,” he said.