Group of authors opposes Google book settlement

The proposed settlement does not contain enough privacy protections, the authors say

More than two dozen authors and publishers have filed an objection to a proposed settlement that would allow Google to digitize and sell millions of books, saying that the agreement ignores important privacy rights of readers and writers.

Without stronger privacy safeguards, Google employees, third parties or the U.S. government could obtain lists of the books people have purchased and read, the authors and publishers said in a court filing.

The settlement has no limitations on Google's collection and use of reader information and no privacy standards for data retention, deletion and sharing of that data with third parties, said the court document filed Tuesday by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.

"If there is no privacy of thought -- which includes implicitly the right to read what one wants, without the approval, consent or knowledge of others -- then there is no privacy, period," Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon said in the court document.

Among the authors objecting to the settlement are Bruce Schneier, author of "Applied Cryptography" and "Secrets & Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World"; Cory Doctorow, author of "Eastern Standard Tribe" and "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom"; Ayelet Waldman, author of "Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes; Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace" and the Mommy-Track Mysteries series; and romance author Lisa Hendrix.

Authors and publishers whose subject matter has included erotica, sexuality and medical marijuana also are part of the group objecting to the books settlement, which was negotiated between Google and book publishers and authors.

Google can reportedly track how much time an individual reader spends on one page of a book, the authors said in their court filing.

"This granular tracking will create a chilling effect on readers, especially readers seeking, browsing or buying books on controversial or sensitive subjects such as politics, religion, sexuality and health," the document said.

"I believe that the fear of tracking will create a chilling effect on readers, reduce my readership and therefore my revenue from these books," Schneier said in the document.

"Moreover, I write these books in order to participate in the public debate on issues. Reduced readership negatively impacts my expressive interests as an author."

A Google spokeswoman wasn't immediately available for comment, but the company has said it would take major steps to protect user privacy.

"While Google Books has always been covered by the general privacy policy for all of Google's services, we understand that the privacy of reading records is especially important to readers and libraries," Jane Horvath, Google's global privacy counsel, wrote in a blog post Thursday.

Google also released a privacy policy for its Books service on Thursday.

Google will not release information about readers, except for narrow circumstances such as a "valid legal process," the policy said.

In jurisdictions where book records are protected by privacy laws, Google will fight efforts to obtain records, the policy said.

Tuesday morning was the deadline for concerned people and groups to file comments on the settlement with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. A court hearing on the settlement is scheduled for Oct. 7.

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Tags legalEFFGoogle Book SearchGoogle books

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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