Google’s Global Library

A recent NPR story discussed concerns raised by the Google Book project, specifically about privacy. As Google is facing a court battle over its proposed policy with publishers and authors over copyright, opponents of privacy say that this is a unique opportunity to require Google to enforce privacy of book reading.

A Google lawyer stated that privacy has nothing to do with copyright ownership, the current issue at stake. In the podcast, it was also stated by the lawyer that Google’s general privacy policy does not allow for Google to share personal information with third parties. However, “personal information” was not defined (e.g. Is the title of a book that one reads considered personal information? By Google’s terms of agreement, probably not, so Google would be free to share this information to third parties), nor was it mentioned that they would stop collecting this information about individuals.

Google is wading into a viper’s nest, and it may be in the corporation’s best interest to choose a policy that will not record the reading habits on the individual level. Libraries have protected the privacy of individuals for decades (perhaps centuries?), so I anticipate a battle over privacy in the future. I doubt that Google will back down because this info is too valuable of a commodity. The question would be who would come out on top. I expect that Google would claim that as a business it has a right to collect and maintain personal information since it is different than a library. As the saying goes, knowledge is power [and money].

To get around any complications, Google might continue to spin off similar successful services in every industrial sector so that it can maintain the personal information of individuals. For example, Google could go into the entertainment industry and rents movies and music online to its customers. It can continue to collect personal information as long as it does not share with outside vendors or third parties; Google essentially BECOMES the third party!

This level of info mining really takes on a Big Brother perspective. But then again, anything does when it begins to get too big. A related question would be is Google getting too big? And will digitizing all of the books and placing them online create a new Great Library of Alexandria?  That is another topic to discuss.

Read original NPR script and link to NPR podcast.


About repplinger

John has served as a Reference Librarian at Willamette University since 2002. He is the liaison to the Science Departments, and is responsible for maintaining the collections related to the life & physical sciences. His research interests range over the entire spectrum of libraries and information sciences, but includes: - Google and its influence on information & society - The Internet's influence on information seeking & sharing behaviors - Trends of scholarly communication - Electronic learning environments - Traditional pedagogy - GIS use in academic libraries

Posted on August 12, 2009, in Google, Libraries, Privacy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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