EFF, ACLU says Google Books will chill reading, speech

EFF, ACLU says Google Books will chill reading, speech

Summary: Google's ability to track users' browsing and book reading habits creates a dangerous temptation to government and private litigants, which will result in a chilling effect on free speech and robust academic research, a new amicus brief says.


If there is no privacy of thought — which includes implicitly the right to read what one wants, without the approval, consent or knowledge of others — then there is no privacy, period. —Michael Chabon, author

I believe that the fear of tracking will create a chilling effect on my readers, reduce my readership and therefore my revenue from these books. Moreover, I write these books in order to participate in the public debate on issues. Reduced readership negatively impacts my expressive interests as an author. —Bruce Schneier, author Privacy concerns are at the heart of a new objection to the Google Books settlement filed by the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, UC Berkeley's Samuelson Clinic and private attorney David Pankin. With EFF's Cindy Cohen taking the lead, the group objects to the settlement because of the chilling effect on reading, research and writing Google's control over user data could have.

The brief comes with star power. Signing on as authors whose interests are harmed by the settlement are Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay), the poet and Beat lit mentor Lawrence Ferlinghetti (he knows something about government repression of literature), cryptographer and author Bruce Schneier, EFF alum/sci-fi author Cory Doctorow, Ronin Publishing (all things marijuana), edgy erotic writers Carol Queen, Violet Blue and Rachel Kramer Bussel, and Debbie Nathan, whose research into child pornography makes her especially sensitive to having her research tracked.

The point is that the settlement as currently approved offers precious little restrictions on how Google tracks, uses and turns over to the government and private litigants the browsing, reading and buying habits of users. Without such protections, people may be reluctant to browse, read and research, all of which has a chilling effect on free speech, scholarship and public discourse.

"These chilling effects are not hypothetical," the brief says, citing In re Grand Jury Subpoena to Kramerbooks & Afterwords, Inc., where the court found that as a result of a grand jury subpoena for Monica Lewinsky's book purchases, “[m]any customers have informed Kramerbooks personnel that they will no longer shop at the bookstore because they believed Kramerbooks to have turned documents over . . . that reveal a patron’s choice of books.”

People do stop reading and researching out of fear. One survey found that 8.4% of Muslim-Americans changed their Internet usage because they believed the government was tracking them. And the government does try to get at this information. While the brief doesn't hesitate to invoke Joe McCarthy, other examples are closer to home:

Between 2001 and 2005, libraries were contacted by law enforcement seeking information on patrons at least 200 times. Indeed, in 2006, AOL received almost 1,000 requests for information in criminal and civil cases per month. Google itself has been the target of governmental requests for massive amounts of information concerning what information users of its search engine are looking to find. So too has objector Ronin Publishing, who was subpoenaed by the Drug Enforcement Agency for the names and addresses of all residents in the state of Arizona who had purchased one of Ronin’s books on marijuana hydroponics.

So do private litigants. Viacom sought and won a motion to compel YouTube to disclose “all data from [its logging] database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed on the YouTube website or through embedding on a third-party website.” The order was later set aside through a stipulation between the parties.

By compiling extensive data on readers’ reading habits, Google Book Search will almost certainly become a source for governmental entities and private litigants seeking this sensitive, associational information on readers.

Topics: Google, Enterprise Software, Government, Government US, Legal

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  • Better that it is entirely unavailable

    than to make it available to anyone who cares to search for it. I have seen nowhere that the Google project will prevent any other source from digitizing books, or from keeping them in print. This is quite possibly THE stupidest argument I have heard yet to stifle the dissemination of information. These authors want to control what they wrote, fine, opting out is not a big trick. I'm guessing you can even opt out pre-emptively by notifying Google that you want works you have copyrighted excluded before they get scanned. How do these people expect to distibute their works and not be traced? Or are they happy to simply go door to door with a wagon full of paper?
  • RE: EFF, ACLU says Google Books will chill reading, speech

    The government is wasting too much time and money sticking its nose where it doesn't belong. Its the height of laziness to go to a library or subpoena a search engine in a witch hunt for people who may be committing a crime. Hey, Uncle Sam! News flash! You stick me on a jury and the only evidence you have is that the defendent did a search on Google, then I'm voting to acquit!
  • RE: EFF, ACLU says Google Books will chill reading, speech

    The Objection has been filed. Tell Google CEO Eric Schmidt (https://secure.aclu.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=1653) that you won?t pay for digital books with your privacy. Don?t let Book Search become a one-stop shop for government and third party fishing expeditions into your private life! More info at www.aclunc.org/googlebooks.
    ACLU of Northern California
  • Privacy = secrecy?

    I find that most people who complain about privacy actually mean secrecy. For example, some people complained about those police-cams being rolled out in NYC - the issue was "privacy". If we placed an actual cop in place of the camera, what's the difference? These are people who have something to hide. Usually, the same is true about general privacy concerns. Government wants to go through my mail? Go ahead; I'm not doing anything wrong. Want to tap my phone line? Whatever. Sure, that's borer-line communism, but my point is that most objections are actually about secrecy and not privacy. The "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" mentality is not about privacy; object all you want.
    • Cost

      That's the point I was making - where are we going to get the money to pay for all of the resources that are going to be required to go through all of this information? It's not going to sort itself for free, and you can't make Google pay for it without a compelling court argument...
    • The blood of patroits.

      Your argument is not particularly in line with American values. Perhaps someone should be cover lettering your correspondence. What happens in Vegas is soon on the news. Perhaps you just think your not doing anything wrong like the National Socialists did not require any wrong doing just ethnic background was enough for a death sentence. And how about that ethnic cleansing? After all no one believed that America would torture and hold prisoners without representation or recourse to a court. Whats the diff? Duh You abandon your country in its time of need that is what. Everything matters. You are Ignorant in a bad way look around and smell the burning body's of what were citizens one day and political trash the next. I see that you do not know. Time to grease the wheels of freedom. There is no secrecy. Privacy is a different matter.
  • Use cash go to the store...

    Amazon and Google can bite the big one.
  • RE: EFF, ACLU says Google Books will chill reading, speech

    I'll probably get roundly slammed for this, but all I can think about this particular direction of the deal is, BFD. What I DO mind is ANYONE but the author taking control of a written work, done covertly for the most part, is just plain old wrong.
    The fact that someone knows I bought Mein Kampf and Hitler's Ovens books just before I mail ordered my perfectly legal and prescribed Oxycontin and several other drugs sometimes enjoyed on the "street" isn't MY problem! The point is, I've nothing to hide and I'll part with the information just for the asking. I've done nothing wrong in the past, now, and won't in the future. But if my neighbor does the same thing and DOES turn out to be a terrorist with a houseful of bomb materials and plans to the state's white house, well, that's just fine with me; I'm sure glad you were monitoring him!
    It is no one's "right" to be assisted by the laws in order to perform their illegal and dangerous duties. I killed a lot of gooks for you idiots who disagree with that and explicitly exempt YOU from those whom I was fighting for. I'd do it all over again too if I were asked.
  • RE: EFF, ACLU says Google Books will chill reading, speech

    The problem really is that kids today are being "taught" not to even know what freedom is. They are like the persons on here who say they "have nothing to hide." They are taught to dial 911 at the drop of a hat.