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Google addresses book-search privacy fears

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin has extended the deadline until 10 a.m. EDT on Sept. 8 for protesting or supporting the landmark deal that would let Google Inc. scan millions of copyrighted books so they can be read on computers and other electronic devices. Chin’s announcement came as Google agreed to draw up a new privacy policy covering its digital library in response to queries from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Ironically, Chin moved the deadline for commenting from Sept. 4 because the computers running his court’s electronic filing system went down for maintenance Sept. 3 and will remain unavailable through the Labor Day weekend.

The 11th-hour change gives the settlement’s growing number of opponents more time to hone their arguments against a proposal that would empower Google to make digital copies of millions of copyrighted books now gathering dust on library book shelves.

An alliance that includes two of Google’s biggest rivals–Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc.–is among the critics expected to spell out their objections in Tuesday morning’s flurry of filings. Silicon Valley attorney Gary Reback, perhaps best known for helping the U.S. government shape an antitrust case against Microsoft a decade ago, is spearheading the attack on Google on behalf of the group, called the Open Book Alliance. (See "Google rivals to fight book-scanning settlement.")

Microsoft and Yahoo also could lodge their own separate complaints against Google, just as Inc. did earlier this week. (See " makes its case against Google book deal.")

Google’s 10-month-old settlement with groups representing U.S. authors and publishers would allow the internet’s search leader to act as its partners’ sales agent. The nonexclusive arrangement has raised fears that Google–already the owner of the internet’s most powerful advertising network–could emerge as the ringleader of a literary cartel that wields too much control over the prices of digital books.

Those worries prompted the U.S. Justice Department to open an inquiry over whether Google’s book deal would violate U.S. laws set up to prevent predatory pricing and promote competition. The Justice Department already has received a waiver giving the agency until Sept. 18 to file its brief with Chin.

Google’s ambition to run the world’s digital library also is raising questions about how much data the company intends to collect about what people are reading and what it intends to do with the information.
In response to inquiries from the FTC, Google has issued a new privacy policy covering its digital library.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company also has agreed to adhere to the FTC’s policies governing how internet companies can use their knowledge of people’s online interests to target ads at specific individuals, according to letters and statements released Sept. 3.

Google posted an initial draft of its privacy policy for books late on Sept. 3 ( The policy states that all of the provisions of Google’s general privacy policy apply to the Google Books service. Among other things, this means:

• Google will not share personal information with third parties, except in the narrow circumstances described in the Privacy Policy, such as emergencies or in response to a valid legal process.
• When someone uses Google Books, Google receives log information similar to what it receives from internet searches. This includes the query term or page request, IP address, browser type, browser language, the date and time of the request, and one or more cookies that might uniquely identify the user’s browser.
• Google says it will use this information for the purposes discussed in its Privacy Policy, such as to improve its services and report on aggregate user trends. Usage data from Google Books are subject to the same security standards outlined in the company’s main Privacy Policy.

"We’ll work to ensure that the privacy of online readers is fact, not fiction," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said.

Google would turn over most of the revenue from its digital book sales to the participating authors and publishers, just one of the many benefits the company is touting.

More than 10 million books already have been scanned into Google’s electronic index since 2004. The settlement would clear the legal hurdles that have been preventing Google from stockpiling millions of copyrighted books that are out-of-print. Because those books are scattered in the different libraries across the nation, they’re inaccessible to most people.

The concept of having a library accessible around the clock from anywhere with an internet connection has attracted plenty of supporters, especially among librarians and researchers.

After sifting through stacks of conflicting briefs about Google’s book settlement, Chin is scheduled to receive oral arguments in an Oct. 7 hearing in New York.


Google Books Privacy Policy

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