Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Still more on privacy

In 2004, Google announced its Google Books project, which proposed to digitize some 10 million books in libraries around the country. In 2005, the Authors Guild sued, claiming the project amounted to "massive" copyright infringement. Last October, the parties reached a negotiated settlement that addressed in detail various financial issues such as royalties and book advertising.

Unfortunately, it did not address privacy concerns for readers or authors. That's bad. As the ACLU has noted,
[w]hat you choose to read says a lot about who you are, what you value, and what you believe. You should be able to read about politics, health, or anything else without worrying that someone is looking over your shoulder. ...

Currently, Google Book Service can monitor the books you browse and search for, the pages you read, and even the notes you write in the “margins.” Without strong privacy protections, all of your browsing and reading history may be collected, tracked, and turned over to the government or third parties without your knowledge or consent.
As a result of such concerns, earlier this month, EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, moved to intervene in the case.
The Google Books settlement would create a single digital library, operated by Google, but currently fails to limit Google's use of the personal information collected. EPIC stated that the settlement "mandates the collection of the most intimate personal information, threatens well-established standards that safeguard intellectual freedom, and imperils longstanding Constitutional rights, including the right to read anonymously." EPIC further warned that the Google Books deal "threatens to eviscerate state library privacy laws that safeguard library patrons in the United States."
The group also noted in its filing that
the settlement would allow Google to integrate sensitive personal information with other Google services, creating detailed profiles on Internet users.
EPIC is not alone in its concern: One day earlier, FTC Chair Jon Leibowitz said in a statement that
[t]he Google Books initiative could provide a wealth of benefits for consumers, yet it also raises serious privacy challenges because of the vast amount of user information that could be collected.
Besides the ACLU, EPIC, and the FTC, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at Berkeley Law School, the American Library Association, two other major library associations, and a number of academics have expressed concerns about the privacy issues involved.

On October 7, a judge in the District Court for the southern district of New York state will hear arguments on the settlement to determine if it's acceptable to the court. Hopefully, the court will take the concerns about privacy into account.

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