Privacy Concerns and Google Books

Google has been working on a huge project to scan millions of library books and put them online. It would be the world’s greatest virtual library.  However, a concern of many with regard to this enormous project is privacy. 

In a campaign organized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, many have signed on to pressure Google into offering greater privacy guarantees for its readers.  Authors who have signed on include Jonathan Lethem, Cory Doctorow, and Michael Chabon.

Google knows which books you search for, which books you browse through and how long you spend on each page.  This is the same kind of information that is produced when you surf the Web.

The EFF and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California want Google to keep reader data for less time than normal Web searches.

Google says it shares their concern about readers’ privacy and does not disclose readers’ personal information except in some narrow circumstances like emergencies and search warrants.  There may also be technical limits to how much anonymity the company can offer readers. Google’s tentative settlement of a copyright dispute allows for readers to have free browsing rights to only 20 percent of a book. If Google is going to keep track of how much of a book a person has seen, it has to keep track of a person’s reading. And of course, when someone buys access to the full book, that will necessitate some form of identification.

Google says it’s trying to find ways to offer anonymity to readers. Google plans to sell “full access” subscriptions to institutions — colleges or libraries — and it says it will not ask for the identity of the individual students or library patrons who use the service.

I know how I will be using Google books in the future – through my public library! 

If you would like to listen to the story on npr.org that prompted this blog, please click here:  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111797207.

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