Porn Works in Google's Favor in Key Word Case

 
 
By Ben Charny  |  Posted 2006-03-17 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Porn has helped Google dodge quite a bullet.

Google was facing a potentially catastrophic request from the government for a random sampling of the search terms its users enter. The government wanted the terms to test porn filters, and to use the test results as evidence in another case.

While it sounds innocuous enough, the threat to privacy of turning over search terms is huge--so big, in fact, it threatened to chill Google's business, Google argued. Its point was that what users search for on the Internet reveals personal details that they wouldn't want to be made public.

So Google pulled out all its guns, battling the government in court for the past few months. On March 17, Google got what it wanted: It doesn't have to turn over the search terms.

One key area U.S. District Judge James Ware cited for his rationale was porn. In fact, a lot of porn.

A recent government find contends that four in 10 people use the Net to look for porn. So, it's a good bet, Ware figures, that by turning over search terms, Google runs the risk of possibly outing some of its customers' sexual proclivities. And that would be an invasion of privacy.

As Ware noted, porn is "generally not information that anyone wishes to reveal publicly," and that "gives this court pause."

But it wasn't a total victory for Google. Ware is forcing Google to turn over a random sample of 50,000 Web sites it has indexed.

Another thing that immediately jumps out from the 21-page ruling is what Ware says he isn't deciding. He isn't addressing concerns "about the appropriateness" of the government using a court subpoena to gather and "collect information about what individuals search the Internet for."

That's one big meatball of question he's hung out there.

 
 
 
 
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