Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, recently said, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Does this maxim apply to Google’s super-secret algorithms?

The same could be applied to the formula for Coca-Cola. It’s one of the best kept secrets in the world but not necessarily something Coke should not be doing (although some might disagree).

Evidently not, to judge from Google Inc.’s 10-K report:

Our patents, trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and other intellectual property rights are important assets for us. …

We also seek to maintain certain intellectual property as trade secrets. The secrecy could be compromised by outside parties, or by our employees, which would cause us to lose the competitive advantage resulting from these trade secrets.

This part is interesting too:

Privacy concerns relating to our technology could damage our reputation and deter current and potential users from using our products and services.

From time to time, concerns have been expressed about whether our products and services compromise the privacy of users and others. Concerns about our practices with regard to the collection, use, disclosure or security of personal information or other privacy-related matters, even if unfounded, could damage our reputation and operating results.

When I read about Schmidt’s remark, I heard the sound of Google’s PR team, weeping.

Following Google VP Jonathan Rosenberg’s blog post this week about the company’s commitment to openness:

We believe in the power of technology to deliver information. We believe in the power of information to do good. We believe that open is the only way for this to have the broadest impact for the most people. We are technology optimists who trust that the chaos of open benefits everyone. We will fight to promote it every chance we get –

its secrets are suddenly one of the themes of the moment:

Google … is a big proponent of open standards in social networking, mobile networks, Web applications, and practically everywhere —except the one place it makes money. Its advertising system is a black box. You also never hear any talk coming out of Google about opening up the search algorithms that drive all of those advertising revenues. In contrast, Google has no problem championing open standards in industries that it is hoping to disrupt (by commoditizing existing business models with open standards, and making money with advertising instead). - Eric Schonfeld, on TechCrunch: For Google, The Meaning Of Open Is When It’s Convenient For Them

If Google keeps search closed, it will remain the gatekeeper - whatever else it may open up. …

Unlike, say, Facebook or Yahoo!, Google is also pathologically closed when it comes to the code driving its famous back-end infrastructure. That, in turn, creates some inconvenient “vendor lock-in” atop its so-called development cloud, Google App Engine. …

But the salient point here is that Google is closed on search. Well, except for the other salient point: the Mountain View Chocolate Factory isn’t exactly open when it comes to all that user data it’s collecting on its famous back-end infrastructure. - Cade Metz on the Register: Google ‘open’ memo betrays deep corporate delusion

How is it open when, like a one-way mirror, Google takes access to more private information than any entity in the world without permission, but is among the most secretive companies in America about its own core business? - Scott Cleland on the Precursor Blog: Google’s Open Double Standard — Fact-Checking Google’s Treatise on “The meaning of open”

But none of these commentators discuss the creepiest of Rosenberg’s contentions:

On the web, the new form of commerce is the exchange of personal information for something of value. This is a transaction that millions of us participate in every day, and it has potentially great benefits.