A coalition of privacy and civil liberties groups are saying that Google Books could become "one-stop shopping" for law enforcement to track people's reading habits. The ACLU of Northern California, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Samuelson law clinic at UC Berkeley sent a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt
demanding privacy safeguards to the product.
[Google] seems to have made woefully little effort to articulate how it intends to adequately protect reader privacy as part of this giant project. Given the long and troubling history of government and third party efforts to compel libraries and booksellers to turn over records about readers, it is essential that Google Books incorporate strong privacy protections in both the architecture and policies of Google Book Search. Without these, Google Books could become a one-stop shop for government and civil litigant fishing expeditions into the private lives of Americans.
The points are well-taken but are the privacy concerns really any different than for the Web? After all, the privacy implications for books aren't really any different than they are for web pages. Tracking book reading has a nasty J. Edgar feel to it, but what Google Books makes clear is that a book is just long-form content. In any case, no similar letter was sent to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. In fact, Amazon could make hay by improving their privacy settings and daring Google to do the same.
But Google's privacy safeguards will now be included in a federal court's evaluation of the deal, so this is the time to make the appeal. And perhaps once stronger privacy is obtained for Google Books, the victory can be extended for web data, as well.