Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, discussed Google’s work and activities during an interview at an event held by The Economic Club of Washington’s event earlier this month, broadcast by C-Span yesterday.

On Google’s competition

When asked whether Facebook was its biggest competitor, Schmidt stressed the wide range of Google’s products gives it a number of competitors:

Today we have one very clear competitor, which is Microsoft, we used to two, with Yahoo, but Yahoo largely outsourced the search stuff to Microsoft. We seem them as the core competitor, we have additional competition from different corners, so Facebook is a competitor in a bunch of properties and also for attention.

Rather than pick out individual companies for mention, Schmidt is more wary of the threat and opportunity that is developing from the growth in ownership of smartphones  and tablets:

We’re more likely to face competition, and there’s lots coming, in these vertical applications that answer questions. People search differently on the mobile phone. In the next year, more searches and page views will come off of mobile phones than PCs or Macs. It’s a huge change that provides a competitive front for us.

Acquisitions

Schmidt revealed that, in his early time at Google, he was not always aware of the companies and talent that was bought by the company:

We did a lot of acquisitions of small companies for talent. Typically, Larry and Sergei would just buy them and tell me after they’d done it. Android showed up, Google Earth showed up. They’d set this technical framework that we’d plough investment into to scale.

Things have changed since then with the company reportedly buying companies at a rate of one a week. When asked about reports that Google does not always disclose its acquisitions, Schmidt said that “sometimes we forget or they are just too small”.

The former Google CEO then went on to describe his ideal acquisition as “four technical people who can solve a very precise problem, are brilliant and don’t have a high valuation”.

Dealing with pornography and securing data

Like it or not, pornography is a big drive of Internet traffic and search, making it an important talking point for Google. Schmidt rejected claims that pornography accounts for one in four Google searches, but he did shed some light on how Google deals with porn in an innovative way:

The company has safe search which means that you’re unlikely to find porn, unless you’re looking for it. In which case adult-rated images may show up.

One of our employees, Matt, would run an internal test. His wife would bake cookies, if you could find porn, his wife would give you a cookie.

When quizzed about the security of Google’s data logs, Schmidt revealed that though it does not monitor individuals, the search giant does track IP addresses:

There are suitations where we maintan the logs of people’s queries, the information that is identifiable to an IP address is retained on the order of a year. Identifying an IP doesn’t mean tracking you, if you search from a corporation it may not show up as you.

It is true that for a period of time the record of your searches is retained, and at a certain point we anonymise it, in such a way that you couldn’t go back [and trace the person who the searches belong to].

Business in China

Google was involved in the most public battle of any foreign company in China, which eventually led to it moving its core operations from the country to neighbouring Hong Kong, which Schmidt refers to as “the other China, which we like”.

He describes China’s censorship as “a truly bad set of laws” which Google couldn’t handle any longer after five years in the country.

On learning to fly

It is not widely known that Schmidt is a fully licensed pilot, having taken up the hobby while he was at Novell:

I fly with professional pilots [when travelling for work but i] started flying at Novell, while we were working on a turnaround. I need a distraction so I learnt how to fly.

My instructor told me, ‘you have to focus on this or you will kill yourself!” So it was a good focusing device.

Social media, gadgets and TV sets

Schmidt admitted that he doesn’t just use Google devices and products, and he readily admits that he tinkers with “everything”, from Facebook to iPads and more:

Google Plus is my preferred tool but I’d encourage everyone to use all of this, not just Google’s. There are differences between them, and it is what our age is about. I marvel at what people are to do, say and build online.

The company executive chairman did drop a bit of a clanger, however, when he referred to the Galaxy Nexus as “the Nexus Prime”, before going on to champion it as the best device ever made.

As a former programmer, Schmidt spoke passionately about the potential of mobile. Though he didn’t mention his prediction that Android would overtake iOS as the operating system of choice for developers on this occasion, he stress the importance of mobile for developers today, saying:

If you’re a young programmer today, you’re building for the mobile phone, that’s where the action is.

Earlier this week, Schmidt told an Italian newspaper that Google would work on introducing a tablet in the next six months and he further discussed new areas for the company. Google is working on deals with TV manufacturers, he said, and that “most”‘ of them are integrating Android into their “high-end” sets.

With Apple reportedly set to make Steve Jobs’ dream of interactive a reality, it looks there will be a new area for Google to spar with its rival in. Let’s hope this doesn’t end up in the courtroom too.

In a keynote before his interview at the event, Schmidt spoke of his belief that the Internet, mobile and technology can make a positive impact across the world, as we earlier wrote.