Google accused of bio-piracy

First it was China, now it's genetics; Google is in hot water with privacy advocates again
Written by Andrew Donoghue, Contributor

Search giant Google has been accused of being the "biggest threat to genetic privacy" for its alleged plan to create a searchable database of genetic information.

Google was presented with an award as part of the Captain Hook Awards for Biopiracy in Curitiba, Brazil, this week. The organisers allege that Google's collaboration with genomic research institute J. Craig Venter, to create a searchable online database of all the genes on the planet, is a clear example of biopiracy.

Biopiracy refers to the "monopolisation of genetic resources" according to the show's organisers. It is also defined as the unauthorised use of biological resources by organisations such as corporations, universities and governments.

According to the award's Web site, Google is guilty of biopiracy because plans for a searchable database could make it easier for private genetic information to be abused. "Google, in cooperation with Craig Venter, are developing plans to make all of our genomes Googlable to facilitate the brave new world of private genetically-tailored medicines," the site claims.

Jim Thomas, from ETC Group, which is one of the organisers behind the awards ceremony, said that Google's recent moves around storing consumer information could land it in hot water with privacy campaigners of all kinds. "The new 'we want to store everyone's information online' mission statement is going to get very controversial if they extend that to genomic information. If Google thinks online privacy is a big can of worms wait until they realise what they've opened up with the whole genetic privacy debate," he said.

The original source for the alleged collaboration between Google and Venter is The Google Story by Pulitzer Prize winner David Vise. However Google has previously refused to comment on the issue and Venter has denied any ongoing relationship. Google did not respond in time for this story.

The search giant is keen to show that it committed to contributing to areas outside of technology. Google recently appointed Dr Larry Brilliant as executive director of Google.org to work with the company's co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to manage Google's charitable donations and philanthropic strategies.

Dr Brilliant is a physician, epidemiologist and a specialist in international health. He played a key role in the World Health Organisation campaign to eradicate smallpox and has also worked for the UN in the fields of blindness and polio eradication.

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