EFF: Google Books Privacy Policy "Needs to Do More"

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-09-05 Print this article Print

One day after Google unveiled a privacy policy for Google Books at the behest of the Federal Trade Commission, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said Google's privacy policy was insufficient.

Google rebuffed the EFF's requests for a policy more than a month ago.

One imagines, then, the EFF would turn a critical eye toward the policy and it sure has; it is so dissatisfied it is filing a rejection to the settlement in time for the New York district court's Sept. 8 deadline to hear support and opposition before the court's Oct. 7 hearing.

EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn wrote Friday:

While there are some good things in the policy -- many that EFF and its coalition partners the ACLU of Northern California and the Samuelson Clinic at Berkeley Law School have long been urging Google to do -- it is still falls well short of the privacy protections that readers need, both substantively and in whether it will be permanent and readily enforceable by readers.

Cohn lists many complaints, alleging that this policy is kind of a boilerplate privacy statement she calls "procedurally insufficient to protect readers and authors who depend on reader privacy."

She also said the policy seems to ignore the EFF's call for standards for disclosure of reading habits to the government and private litigants. The EFF wants privacy-protective standards met before disclosing someone's reading history and Cohn argued Google will follow the few state laws that apply to it already.

"Google needs to say "come back with a warrant" when law enforcement or civil litigants come knocking for their treasure trove of reader information. This policy does not," Cohn said.

Cohn lists the many other ways the policy does not pass muster in the EFF's eyes in this blog post. Bear in mind, EFF was asking for a lot, practically writing the policy for Google in its letter to the company in July.

Cohn does praise the way Google plans to protect readers' selections from credit card companies and the fact that it does not plan to require sign-in to a Google Account for access to browsing and preview services.

The EFF seeks to preserve our privacy rights; Someone has to, and no others are addressing the privacy aspect with such scrutiny and detail.

Google Book Search is a massive undertaking by Google, with a lot of data involved. Some people are sensitive about information Google collects on their searches, so of course the same people are going to be just as protective about information the tracks what they read. No one wants people looking over their shoulder at the public library and no one wants Google doing the same, virtually.

Regulatory groups such as the FTC will pay attention to the EFF's concerns, so the watchdog has done its job. It's good to keep Google on its toes regarding Web user policy. Check out this Search Engine Land piece, which spotlights Google's different privacy approaches.

One last note. I also don't envy Judge Denny Chin, who is presiding over the case. The man has to read hundreds of pages of legal briefs for those who support Google Book Search, such as civil rights groups, Sony, the European Union, and from those who oppose it, including the EFF, Amazon, and others.

I know the court said it was extending the deadline to file positions on the deal from yesterday to Tuesday because of computer maintenance, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was a front to give Chin more time to read.

That's how incendiary this issue has become.

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