Monday, August 31, 2009

Does Google's Book Settlement Open the Door to Book Spying?

The opt-out deadline for the Google class action "book copying" litigation is this Friday, September 4, 2009. There have been many objections filed to the settlement and the court will be tasked to determine how and whether the settlement fairly treats book copyright owners, distributors and the public. One observation made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU of North California and the Samuelson Clinic at the University of California at Berkeley relating to public privacy rights is interesting and bears mention.

The concern deals with how Google may track the public search of the anticipated vast digital book files residing on Google's computers. At present, a book browser can walk through aisle after aisle of books in libraries and book stores, examining books of interest without having the browser’s conduct tracked. No one maintains data on which aisle the browser walks down or which books the browser examines and reads. But Google is different. We already have familiarity with Google’s tracking methods for monitoring a web user’s search inquiries and web viewing habits. There is no reason to believe that Google’s digital book catalog will not have similar capabilities to track a user’s browsing interests, and to record the types of books a person examines and downloads.

Is this right? Is this what the public expects when it comes to browsing and reading books? Is the public willing to allow Google’s big brother website monitoring habits to apply to the public perusal of books? Recall that in 1953 Ray Bradbury published Farenheit 451 about the control of public thought and expression via the control of books.

It does not appear that Google’s settlement agreement speaks to its intention to monitor reading habits. This suggests, of course, that unless Google is forced not to monitor book viewing and selections then there is no good reason to believe that Google won’t track the public’s review and reading of books. More information about the position of the EFF, ACLU of N. Cal. and the Samuelson Clinic at Berkeley is available online at this link.

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