Feds force Googlebooks privacy promise

Or at least part of it


Under pressure from the US Federal Trade Commission, Google has released a privacy policy specifically for Google Book Search, that digital library service poised on the brink of monopoly.

Late Thursday afternoon, after an earlier conversion with the Mountain View web giant, the FTC posted an open letter urging Google to create a privacy policy just for Book Search, which could potentially track the book reading habits of who knows how many web users. Previously, the company said the service was covered by its general policy.

"We have concerns about Google gaining access to vast amounts of consumer data regarding the books consumers search for, purchase, and read," the FTC's letter said. "It is important for Google to develop a new privacy policy, specific to Google Books, that will apply to the current product, set forth commitments for future related services and features, and preserve commitments made in the existing privacy policy."

Notice the "future related services" bit. In October, Google settled a lawsuit from US Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over Book Search, which involves scanning texts inside many of the world's leading research libraries. The $125m settlement would give Google the right to scan, sell, and serve ads against millions of copyrighted books, while authorizing additional online services above and beyond the current incarnation of Book Search.

The settlement does not cover privacy, and though many have urged Google to lay down its privacy commitments for a post-settlement world, the company had previously refused to do so, arguing that the services described in the settlement haven't been built yet.

And yet, after discussions with the FTC, Google has not only laid down a privacy policy for today's Book Search, but made certain promises about post-settlement services. "We've planned in advance for the protections that will later be built, and we've described some of those in the Google Books policy," reads a blog post from the company.

Yes, it did say some. Google makes it clear this is not a complete privacy policy for future services. "Because the settlement agreement has not yet been approved by the court, and the services authorized by the agreement have not been built or even designed yet, it's not possible to draft a final privacy policy that covers details of the settlement's anticipated services and features. Our privacy policies are usually based on detailed review of a final product -- and on weeks, months or years of careful work engineering the product itself to protect privacy."

And as it stands, the policy doesn't say much more than Google has said in the past. Among other things, the policy states:

  • Google will not require users to create Google accounts, or in any way register their identity with Google, in order to [browse free online books covered under the settlement, use the settlement's institutional subscription services, or use public access terminal the settlement will set up in public libraries]
  • Users will need to have Google Accounts in order to purchase [post-settlement] books because such information is necessary to provide access to the user who bought the book. However, we plan to build protections to limit the information (such as book titles) available to credit card companies about book purchases, and to enable you to delete or disassociate the titles of books purchased from your Google Account.
  • When you use [the current] Google Books, we receive log information similar to what we receive in Web Search. This includes: the query term or page request (which may include specific pages within a book you are browsing), Internet Protocol address, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request and one or more cookies that may uniquely identify your browser.

The policy does not prevent Google from mixing this data with data from other Google services. it steers clear of the fact that so many will log into their Google accounts while browsing whether they need to or not. And naturally, it doesn't address the (many) other issues surrounding the settlement, such as the monopoly it would create around so-called orphan works or the Book Rights Registry that would have sole control over the prices of Google's scanned works.

For the Internet Archive's Peter Brantley, who heads up the Open Book Alliance, a group that vehemently opposes Google's book settlement, today's Google announcement is easily summarized. "Google’s response essentially boils down to this – Trust Us. Given Google’s silence on specifics — from privacy, to pricing, to access, to competition – we think it’s too important to leave to blind faith that Google would do the right thing for consumers if the settlement is approved."

The Open Book Alliance is working to quash the settlement and put federal legislation in its place - federal legislation that covers all book scanners, not just Google. The settlement still requires court approval. A hearing is scheduled for earlier October. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Google has more reasons why it doesn't like antitrust law that affects Google
    It'll ruin Gmail, claims web ads giant

    Google has a fresh list of reasons why it opposes tech antitrust legislation making its way through Congress but, like others who've expressed discontent, the ad giant's complaints leave out mention of portions of the proposed law that address said gripes.

    The law bill in question is S.2992, the Senate version of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA), which is closer than ever to getting votes in the House and Senate, which could see it advanced to President Biden's desk.

    AICOA prohibits tech companies above a certain size from favoring their own products and services over their competitors. It applies to businesses considered "critical trading partners," meaning the company controls access to a platform through which business users reach their customers. Google, Apple, Amazon, and Meta in one way or another seemingly fall under the scope of this US legislation. 

    Continue reading
  • Makers of ad blockers and browser privacy extensions fear the end is near
    Overhaul of Chrome add-ons set for January, Google says it's for all our own good

    Special report Seven months from now, assuming all goes as planned, Google Chrome will drop support for its legacy extension platform, known as Manifest v2 (Mv2). This is significant if you use a browser extension to, for instance, filter out certain kinds of content and safeguard your privacy.

    Google's Chrome Web Store is supposed to stop accepting Mv2 extension submissions sometime this month. As of January 2023, Chrome will stop running extensions created using Mv2, with limited exceptions for enterprise versions of Chrome operating under corporate policy. And by June 2023, even enterprise versions of Chrome will prevent Mv2 extensions from running.

    The anticipated result will be fewer extensions and less innovation, according to several extension developers.

    Continue reading
  • I was fired for blowing the whistle on cult's status in Google unit, says contractor
    The internet giant, a doomsday religious sect, and a lawsuit in Silicon Valley

    A former Google video producer has sued the internet giant alleging he was unfairly fired for blowing the whistle on a religious sect that had all but taken over his business unit. 

    The lawsuit demands a jury trial and financial restitution for "religious discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation and related causes of action." It alleges Peter Lubbers, director of the Google Developer Studio (GDS) film group in which 34-year-old plaintiff Kevin Lloyd worked, is not only a member of The Fellowship of Friends, the exec was influential in growing the studio into a team that, in essence, funneled money back to the fellowship.

    In his complaint [PDF], filed in a California Superior Court in Silicon Valley, Lloyd lays down a case that he was fired for expressing concerns over the fellowship's influence at Google, specifically in the GDS. When these concerns were reported to a manager, Lloyd was told to drop the issue or risk losing his job, it is claimed. 

    Continue reading
  • UK competition watchdog seeks to make mobile browsers, cloud gaming and payments more competitive
    Investigation could help end WebKit monoculture on iOS devices

    The United Kingdom's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on Friday said it intends to launch an investigation of Apple's and Google's market power with respect to mobile browsers and cloud gaming, and to take enforcement action against Google for its app store payment practices.

    "When it comes to how people use mobile phones, Apple and Google hold all the cards," said Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, in a statement. "As good as many of their services and products are, their strong grip on mobile ecosystems allows them to shut out competitors, holding back the British tech sector and limiting choice."

    The decision to open a formal investigation follows the CMA's year-long study of the mobile ecosystem. The competition watchdog's findings have been published in a report that concludes Apple and Google have a duopoly that limits competition.

    Continue reading
  • End of the road for biz living off free G Suite legacy edition
    Firms accustomed to freebies miffed that web giant's largess doesn't last

    After offering free G Suite apps for more than a decade, Google next week plans to discontinue its legacy service – which hasn't been offered to new customers since 2012 – and force business users to transition to a paid subscription for the service's successor, Google Workspace.

    "For businesses, the G Suite legacy free edition will no longer be available after June 27, 2022," Google explains in its support document. "Your account will be automatically transitioned to a paid Google Workspace subscription where we continue to deliver new capabilities to help businesses transform the way they work."

    Small business owners who have relied on the G Suite legacy free edition aren't thrilled that they will have to pay for Workspace or migrate to a rival like Microsoft, which happens to be actively encouraging defectors. As noted by The New York Times on Monday, the approaching deadline has elicited complaints from small firms that bet on Google's cloud productivity apps in the 2006-2012 period and have enjoyed the lack of billing since then.

    Continue reading
  • Google offers $118m to settle gender discrimination lawsuit
    Don't even think about putting LaMDA on the compensation committee

    Google has promised to cough up $118 million to settle a years-long gender-discrimination class-action lawsuit that alleged the internet giant unfairly pays men more than women.

    The case, launched in 2017, was led by three women, Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease, and Kelli Wisuri, who filed a complaint alleging the search giant hires women in lower-paying positions compared to men despite them having the same qualifications. Female staff are also less likely to get promoted, it was claimed.

    Gender discrimination also exists within the same job tier, too, the complaint stated. Google was accused of paying women less than their male counterparts despite them doing the same work. The lawsuit was later upgraded to a class-action status when a fourth woman, Heidi Lamar, joined as a plaintiff. The class is said to cover more than 15,000 people.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022