EFF urges members to pressure Google on books privacy

Google should block government access to book records, a group says

Digital liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation is urging its supporters to pressure Google to build significant privacy protections into its Book Search service, with the EFF suggesting the service gives Google access to new personal information.

The EFF posted its concerns with Google Book Search on its blog Thursday, with EFF designer/activist Hugh D'Andrade saying the search product could infringe on "privacy of thought."

"If you suspect you may have a serious disease, you can go into a bookstore and browse for books about your illness, find one that's useful, and buy it with cash," D'Andrade wrote. "And you can rest assured that your insurance premiums won't increase as a result, because there is no way your insurance company can find out about your choice of reading material."

Book readers have an expectation of privacy, he added. "But this privacy could be eroded as books enter the digital world, where every click leaves a record," he wrote.

EFF asked supporters to send a letter to Google executives, asking that they ensure against government snooping into the book records and track book records for less than 30 days.

"I should have complete control of my purchases and purchasing data," says the form letter offered by EFF. "I should be able to delete my records and have extensive permissions controls for my 'bookshelves' or any other reading displays. I should be able to 'give' books to anyone, including to myself, without tracking."

EFF is urging action now because the deadline for public comment on a proposed settlement, between Google and book publishers and authors, is Sept. 4, D'Andrade said in an e-mail. The book settlement, reportedly being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, would allow Google to digitize a wide range of books.

"We wanted people to have time to provide feedback," D'Andrade said. "Also, we have been having private conversations with Google, and concluded that it would be useful for them to hear from the public on these issues."

Google, in its own blog post Wednesday, said it would protect user privacy.

"Privacy is important to us, and we know it's important to our users, too," wrote Dan Clancy, engineering director for Google Books. "We have a strong privacy policy in place now for Google Books and for all Google products."

But the Google Books settlement agreement has not yet been approved by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Clancy noted. That means Google cannot give details on a privacy policy for the service yet, he said.

"The services authorized by the agreement haven't been built or even designed yet," he wrote. "That means it's very difficult (if not impossible) to draft a detailed privacy policy. While we know that our eventual product will build in privacy protections -- like always giving users clear information about privacy, and choices about what if any data they share when they use our services -- we don't yet know exactly how this all will work. We do know that whatever we ultimately build will protect readers' privacy rights, upholding the standards set long ago by booksellers and by the libraries whose collections are being opened to the public through this settlement."

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