Blog of Rights

Judge Cites Privacy Concerns in Rejecting Google Books Settlement

By Nicole Ozer, Technology & Civil Liberties Policy Director, ACLU of Northern California at 10:52am

What you read says a lot about what you think and believe. That’s why the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Samuelson Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, filed an objection to the proposed Google Book Search settlement on behalf of authors and readers concerned about inadequate privacy safeguards in the book service. Now a federal court has rejected that proposed settlement. In today’s court opinion, the judge wrote that "[t]he privacy concerns [with Google Book Search] are real."

We urged the court to reject the proposed settlement unless Google took several important steps to protect user privacy:

  • Promise to protect book records from disclosure by complying with demands for information only when those demands are embodied in a search warrant or civil court order and by informing users whose records are sought as soon as legally permissible.
  • Limit tracking of users who choose to browse, read, and search books anonymously, including allowing users to use the service without registering or providing any personal information.
  • Provide user control over reading and purchasing data, including the ability to maintain privacy settings for “bookcases” and to transfer a digital book to another user without a permanent record.
  • Be transparent about the information that the service collects and maintains about users and when and why that information has been disclosed to any third party.

As we pointed out in Digital Books: A New Chapter for Reader Privacy, our recent issue paper, digital book services are growing in popularity. These services may collect detailed information about readers and the books they browse, the pages they read, and even the notes they write in the “margins.” The time is now to retain and strengthen reader privacy in the digital age and ensure that sensitive browsing and reading history does not improperly end up in the hands of the government or third parties. 

To address this challenge, we are working with EFF to introduce landmark digital book privacy legislation in California. (Stay tuned!) But we need companies like Google to support these efforts — and to ensure that their digital book products protect reader privacy. 

As the court noted today, Google has an opportunity to incorporate additional privacy protections into its Book Search product. Please let Google know that you demand strong reader privacy protections for the digital age by signing our petition today.

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