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EPIC seeks to intervene in Books settlement, says privacy policies are no solution

EPIC has asked to intervene in the Google Books settlement, saying the public needs an advocate for our interests. The deal lacks privacy protections and would allow Google to mix the particularly sensitive book data with web search and other data Google collects on users.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor on

While the CDT finds Google's new privacy promises a good first step, the Electronic Privacy Information Center apparenty feels differently. Not content to file a brief on the matter, EPIC is actually seeking to intervene in the case (PDF), since, it says, none of the parties are representing the public's interests, which are massively impacted by the settlement.

In a press release about the motion EPIC director Marc Rotenberg said that the deal lacks privacy protections and would allow Google to mix the particularly sensitive book data with web search and other data Google collects on users. The result would be a particularly rich user profile that poses serious privacy issues.

“The settlement can be fixed if meaningful safeguards are established at the time the settlement is approved,” said Marc Rotenberg, EPIC Executive Director. “But those terms are currently lacking and so the settlement as it stands should be rejected.”

But what about that privacy policy? No privacy policy can fix the problem, Rotenberg said.

Privacy policies have done little to safeguard online privacy. They are written to allow companies to do what they intend to do. And without clear legal standards, Government officials will go to Google for information on user activity as they did with libraries under the Patriot Act. If Google is genuinely concerned about the privacy of its users, it will support enforceable safeguards and strong technical measures to protect user data.

From the filing:

Although the facts underlying this lawsuit are fairly narrow, the Settlement is unprecedentedly broad. It mandates the collection of the most intimate personal information, threatens wellestablished standards that safeguard intellectual freedom, and imperils longstanding Constitutional rights, including the right to read anonymously. Furthermore, it threatens to eviscerate state library privacy laws that safeguard library patrons in the United States. EPIC is uniquely qualified to advocate for readers’ privacy interests, which have heretofore been unrepresented by any party to this lawsuit.

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