For Immediate Release
National Coalition of Authors Urge Rejection of Google Book Search Deal
Ability to Track Readers Puts Privacy at Risk
WASHINGTON - A coalition of authors and publishers—including best-sellers Michael
Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, and technical author Bruce Schneier—is urging
a federal judge to reject the proposed settlement in a lawsuit over
Google Book Search, arguing that the sweeping agreement to digitize
millions of books ignores critical privacy rights for readers and
The group of more than two dozen authors and publishers, represented
by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public
Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law
(Samuelson clinic), filed an objection to the settlement today. The
coalition is concerned that Google’s collection of personal identifying
information about users who browse, read, and make purchases online at
Google Book Search will chill their readership.
"Google Book Search and other digital book projects will redefine
the way people read and research," said Lethem, winner of a National
Book Critics Circle Award. "Now is the moment to make sure that Google
Book Search is as private as the world of physical books. If future
readers know that they are leaving a digital trail for others to
follow, they may shy away from important intellectual journeys."
The settlement, currently pending approval from a New York federal
district court, would end the legal challenges brought by the Authors'
Guild over the Google Book Search project. It would give Google the
green light to scan and digitize millions of books and allow users to
search for and read those books online. However, Google’s system could
monitor what books users search for, how much of the books they read,
and how long they spend on various pages. Google could then combine
information about readers’ habits and interests with additional
information it collects from other Google services, creating a massive
"digital dossier" that would be vulnerable to fishing expeditions by
law enforcement or civil litigants.
"I believe that the fear of tracking will create a chilling effect
on my readers and reduce my readership, and therefore my revenue, from
these books," said Schneier, a computer security expert. "Moreover, I
write these books in order to participate in the public debate on
security issues. Reduced readership negatively impacts my expressive
interests as an author."
In the objection filed today, the coalition asks the court to
much privacy in online books as they have in a library or a bookstore
and to ensure that the policy is enforceable and overseen by the court
on an ongoing basis. The authors and publishers present a list of
privacy protections that would improve the settlement, including
limiting tracking of users by requiring a court order or judge-approved
warrant before disclosure of the information collected, ensuring user
control of personal information stored by Google, and making the system
transparent to readers. After much pressure from EFF, ACLU, the
for Google Books on September 3, 2009. However, that policy doesn’t
guarantee that Google will require court approval before disclosing
reader information, and it doesn’t sufficiently limit Google’s
retention of that information. It is also changeable by Google at any
A hearing on the fairness of the proposed Google Book Search settlement is set for October 7, 2009, in New York.
For today's filing:
For more on this case:
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