National Coalition of Authors Urges Rejection Of Google Book Search Deal

September 8, 2009

Ability To Track Readers Puts Privacy At Risk, Says ACLU

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CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – A coalition of authors and publishers – including best-sellers Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem, as well as leading security author Bruce Schneier – is urging a federal judge to reject the proposed settlement in a lawsuit over Google Book Search, arguing that the sweeping agreement to digitize millions of books ignores critical privacy and speech rights for readers and writers. The group of more than two dozen authors and publishers, represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union and the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, filed an objection to the settlement today. The coalition is concerned that the collection and potential disclosure of personally identifying information about users who browse, read and make purchases online at Google Book Search will chill their readership.

"Google Book Search and other digital book projects will redefine the way people read and research," said Lethem, best-selling novelist and winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award. "Now is the moment to make sure that Google Book Search is as private as the world of physical books. If future readers know that they are leaving a digital trail for others to follow, they may shy away from important intellectual journeys."

The settlement, currently pending approval in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, would end the legal challenges brought by the Authors' Guild and others over the Google Book Search project – giving Google the green light to scan and digitize millions of books and allow users to search for and read those books online. However, because the settlement does not contain any privacy protections for users, Google's system will be able to monitor what books users search for, how much of the books they read and how long they spend on various pages. Google could then combine information about readers' habits and interests with additional information it collects from other Google services, creating a massive "digital dossier" that would be highly tempting and possibly vulnerable to fishing expeditions by law enforcement or civil litigants.

"People should be able to access information on the Internet without fear that what they read and look at is being tracked and that their personal information is being collected by private companies or the government," said Aden Fine, a staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. "Advancements in technology should not come at the expense of Americans' privacy and speech rights. The settlement should ensure that readers' privacy is protected."

Today's objection urges the court to ensure that Google Book Search gives readers as much privacy in online books as they have in a library or a bookstore. The filing includes a list of privacy protections that would improve the settlement, including requiring a court order or judge-approved warrant before disclosure of any information collected, and making the system transparent to readers. After much pressure from the coalition, Google finally issued a privacy policy for Google Books last Thursday, but that policy neither ensures that Google will require court approval before reader information is disclosed nor sufficiently limits Google's retention of reader information. It is also subject to change by Google at any time.

A hearing on the fairness of the proposed Google Book Search settlement is set for October 7, 2009 in New York.

Today's filing is available online at: www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/40934lgl20090908.html

More information about the case is available at: www.aclunc.org/googlebooks and www.eff.org/cases/authors-guild-v-google

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