Sunday, January 22, 2006

Google Defends Privacy (?!?)

The controversy over Google's refusal to comply with a federal subpoena that asks for information that will allegedly help them estimate the amount of porn on the Web and its imperviousness to filters has put information and privacy in the spotlight. Apparently a lot of people are shocked, shocked to realize how much personal information is gathered by Google and other search engines. (Google saves more information than any of its competitors.) I'm not sure if Google's stock price is falling because investors worry they'll lose in court (the government has filed a "motion to compel" - it's worth bearing in mind this is not a criminal investigation but a demand for information to build a better case for a law that has been struck down in the past) or if they're concerned Google's trade secrets will be revealed in the process.

One thing worth pondering: we'd never know about the government's request if Google hadn't said no. If the DoJ truly just wants to understand the extent of porn on the Web, why couldn't they have done the research in the open, rather than secretly with subpoenas?

At least libraries understand the risk of hanging onto personal information, even if tracking people's reading habits seems relatively benign. Yet they have to decide whether adding popular convenience features that suggest books a patron might like or that offer opportunities to share reading lists (a la Library Thing) trump that risk. Personally, I'm fairly knee-jerk about privacy, but I have a feeling that libraries may be growing less protective and more interested in adding the social networking features that are becoming so popular.



Alec said...

While Google may look like the good guy now, they certainly seem like the bad guy in their recent decision to cooperate with China to censor search results. So, while they may defend privacy, intellectual freedom is taking a back seat so that the company can establish itself in the Chinese market. Never mind that this is the company with the informal corporate motto, Don't be evil.

Alec said...

This article in the NY Times seems to confirm suspicions that Google's refusal is all about trade secrets.

Barbara said...

Yes, talk about cognitive dissonance... don't be evil, but we'll take "evil" as it is defined by the ruling party.

Shame on them.