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Why is Google picking a fight with the mafia?

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(Read caption) In this file photo, a Google logo is displayed at the headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

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Google Ideas' two-day conference on how to best use technology to fight criminal networks was a forum for tough, anti-mafia rhetoric, but competing interests and few concrete proposals make the proposed geek-government-activist partnership more difficult than advertised.

If there was doubt about Google's resolve in fighting what it calls "Illicit Networks," some of it was washed away with a few words from Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt on day one of the conference: "At the end of the day, there really are bad people, and you have to go in and arrest them and kill them."

The statement, which came during the question-and-answer session and was cut from the video version below, seemed to stun all but Google Ideas' own employees who have seen the more combative side of Mr. Schmidt on his recent trips to Ciudad Juarez, among other places. The conference continued apace with panelists and Google staff alike touting the need to fight the worldwide problem, in large part through technology.

For his part, Schmidt went on to stress the ubiquity and value of cellular phones as well as the use of "packet switching," a means to break information into pieces and distribute it to the right people and places in a way that provides anonymity to the sender and pushes for maximum accountability of the people who receive and process that information. In this way, Google hopes, it can help ensure that timely, accurate information about criminal activities goes to responsible, responsive government authorities.

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