Google, the widely used search engine has a mission: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”1 However, from taking pictures of people’s homes and property to Google Books, the ways that Google has gone about fulfilling that mission have been criticized by many.

Google Books

Google Books allows access over 7 million books online. Researching subjects is much easier. You can search for a specific term that appears in the text, rather than the traditional method of using the index. As long as you have the Internet, you’ve got access to a variety of information and sources larger than most college and public libraries.

The Lawsuit

After launching Google Books, the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and a handful of authors and publishers sued Google in a class action lawsuit claiming copyright violations. Google settled with the parties three years later. On its Web site Google said that they “will be working closely with these industry partners to bring even more of the world’s books online. Together we’ll accomplish far more than any of us could have individually, to the enduring benefit of authors, publishers, researchers and readers alike.”2 The settlement gave Google the broad rights to scan books and pay authors and publishers for that right.

Opposition to the Settlement

After, many authors and publishers objected to the settlement agreement. Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers may now have to reconsider their settlement.

Authors and publishers fear that letting Google scan their books would lead to an uncontrolled digitalization of their works. They fear that scanning these books will jeopardize the future of printing and see this as the book’s demise.

The publishing industry argues that this is comparable with what happened to the music industry recently. When people began using unauthorized file sharing to listen to music royalties and profits were damaged. Even the Justice Department claims that Google Books gives Google too much of a role in determining the digital fate of a large number of books.

The main fear is that Google would have too much power in influencing how information is distributed. Also, civil liberties rights groups have their own problems with the agreement since it didn’t address privacy concerns.

Google Books and Privacy Concerns

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and UC Berkeley’s Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic voiced their worries as Google expands the number of books available through its service.

When you search for a book on Google Books, the Web site keeps track of the books visited. The company also has a repository of data about its user’s reading habits. This could become a “one-stop shop for government and civil litigant fishing expeditions into the private life of Americans,”3 civil rights groups wrote in a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Right now, Google seems to have made little effort to say how they intend to protect reader privacy. Given the long and troubling history of government and third party efforts to compel libraries and booksellers to turn over records about readers, it’s essential that Google Books incorporate strong privacy protections.

Nicole Ozer, a director with the ACLU of Northern California, explained that this is like “someone following you down the aisle at the library, writing down every book you pick up and every book you sit down to read.”4

Keeping track and then disclosing what people read, even when courts request this information, is a hot issue. There have been many legal battles over this issue between book sellers and libraries on one hand, and the government and civil litigants on the other. Right now, Google is at the midst of this tension. Because users can buy some of the digital books, Google would have even more access to information than typical libraries do, including your name, address, banking information and more.

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