Blown To Bits

Judge of Google Books Settlement Seems Skeptical

Friday, February 19th, 2010 by Harry Lewis

Yesterday was the “Fairness Hearing” in the Google Books Settlement case. The New York Times has a good report on it. Judge Chin’s questions suggest he is worried that the settlement goes way beyond what was needed to settle the issues between the parties—which is true, of course. A class action lawsuit over copyright infringement should not be a platform for a world-changing business partnership, with the biggest rewards going to the infringer.

Alas, so far I see nothing to suggest that the privacy issues with the settlement have caught the judge’s attention. I found this paragraph from the ACLU particularly interesting:

Because the settlement does not contain any privacy protections for users, Google’s system will be able to monitor which books users search for, which pages of the books they read and how long they spend on each page. Google could then combine information about readers’ habits and interests with additional information it collects from other Google services, creating a massive “digital dossier” that would be highly tempting and possibly vulnerable to fishing expeditions by law enforcement or civil litigants.

Among the reasons Google will rue the day it decided to roll out Buzz as an opt-out product with your social network harvested from your Gmail address book is that it renders worries like the ACLU’s far more credible. With all that useful data about reader behavior, Google itself will be highly ¬†tempted to repurpose it. After all, it has shown itself willing to do that with your address book, which many of us consider confidential information—why not do it with the information about which books, and which pages of which books, you spend your time reading?

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