Where privacy advocates failed to achieve, the Federal
Trade Commission succeeded. Google Sept. 3 bowed to public pressure from the FTC,
Book Search settlement with authors and publishers is even approved.
Google Book Search is the search engine giant's mammoth
undertaking to scan millions of the world's books online and offer them to users
for fees. To do this, Google last October paid
$125 million to settle a five-year-old, class-action lawsuit with the
Author's Guild and the Association of American Publishers.
While Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo and other organizations are opposing the deal
because they fear the power it will afford Google over the world's books, privacy advocates
the lack of a policy that protects readers from any undue data collection.
Google had been loath to institute a formal policy until the deal was approved
and it could officially begin building the infrastructure for the service. That
changed, apparently after the FTC and Google began talking.
"It is important for Google to develop a new privacy
policy for Google Books... that will apply to the current product, set forth
commitments for future related services and features, and preserve commitments
FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a letter
to Google dated Sept. 2.
In particular, Vladeck asked Google to limit secondary
uses of data, such as using a list of books read in order to decide which
advertising to show a Google Books user. Google took the FTC's requests to heart and announced a
formal policy, which can be found
"To provide all users with a clear understanding of
our practices, and in response to helpful comments about needing to be clearer
about the Books product from the FTC and others, we wanted to highlight key provisions
as well as to describe privacy practices specific to the Google Books service,"
Jane Horvath, Google global privacy counsel.
FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz
Google's gesture in a statement: "The 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.
Privacy is a top priority of the FTC, and I am pleased that Google has listened
to FTC staff's concerns and agreed to take initial steps, as outlined in the
letters, to protect the privacy of Google Books users."