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Google Book Privacy Still A Concern Post GBS

The Center for Democracy and Technology recently noted (and quite rightly, we might add), that although that Judge Chin rejected the flawed Google Books Settlement, there are still many outstanding concerns – reader privacy being an important one.

As CDT writes, Google

“is moving right along with its project to digitize and offer books licensed through its Partner program. [And] [l]imiting customer previews, facilitate lending among friends, and sync “bookmarks” across devices all require fine-grained tracking of not just what books a person buys or browses, but also what pages she’s read, what passages she’s highlighted, and with whom she’s shared which books. . . . Such a cache presents new opportunities for tracking and data mining, as well as a tempting honeypot for government or third-party litigants.”

OBA has voiced the same types of concerns over in the past – especially in light of some of Google’s highest ranking employees’ views on privacy, like then-CEO Eric Schmidt’s infamous statement that “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

The aggregation of data on what people are reading is a significant break with the centuries-old American tradition of vigorous protections of reader privacy.  Back in February, we blogged about a paper written by two University of Washington professors on the privacy implications of Google’s book project in which the authors write, “the fundamental goal of the American public library has for more than a century been to support the freedom of inquiry, and thereby the freedom of expression, necessary to the functioning of a free society.”  Certainly, reader privacy protections are needed in the Partner program as well as additional safeguards so that Google does not push the limits on tracking and data mining the sensitive information that CDT is concerned about.

In striking contrast, Google’s primary goal is the monetization of, in this case, readers’ personal information – a goal that is fundamentally incompatible with the privacy that is required to maintain the ability of people to read what they want, when they want to without fear of reprisal or exposure.

In February, we ended our post with a quote from the paper written by the UW professors – we think that it’s worth doing so again:

By stripping away many of the traditional safeguards on reader privacy— whether legal, ethical, or situational—shifting free-of-charge, publicly available reading from libraries to Google Books complicates the capacity of the context to support truly unfettered inquiry and knowledge diffusion. For all the reasons already noted—controversial interests, the ability of reading material to reveal other things about the reader, or pure embarrassment—a lack of privacy with regard to the selection of reading materials can significantly chill individuals’ desire and/or ability to explore as broadly as they might wish.

Originally posted on The Open Book Alliance Blog by OBA.

Written by internetarchive

April 19, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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