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A touch of evil?

Zafar Anjum | Sept. 11, 2009
Despite its revolutionary products, Google still draws flak from different quarters

Google EarthFor a search and software company, it is not clear why Google launched the Google Earth project. But ever since its launch, the project has drawn criticism from people who dont want Googles crew taking photos of their neighbourhood. In Europe, there have been reports that people chased away Googles vans photographing their houses. Moreover, the applications possible misuse for purposes of terrorism has also been highlighted.

The latest controversy surrounding one of Googles projects is its programme to digitise and sell millions of books. The plan is ambitious and has been under way for the last few years. But there are major copyright issues surrounding Googles programme.

US publishers had sued Google for failing to respect their copyright when the company had started digitising books. Later, they reached a revenue-sharing settlement covering books that are still copyright-protected, ones whose copyright has expired, as well as the huge number of books that are technically still protected but have fallen out of print and where the copyright owner cant be located.

But now the plan has hit bad weather in Europe. According to a report, five organisations representing EU publishers, libraries, rights holders and businesses active in Internet commerce told the European Commission at a hearing on Monday (7 September) that the proposed US Google book settlement is unacceptable in its present form, because it would lead to "a de facto monopoly" in the emerging digital books market.

Also, more than two dozen authors and publishers have filed an objection to the proposed settlement. Without stronger privacy safeguards, Google employees, third parties or the US government could obtain lists of the books people have purchased and read, the authors and publishers said in a court filing.

The settlement has no limitations on Google's collection and use of reader information and no privacy standards for data retention, deletion and sharing of that data with third parties, argued the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.

If there is no privacy of thoughtwhich includes implicitly the right to read what one wants, without the approval, consent or knowledge of othersthen there is no privacy, period, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon said in the court document.

No matter where the controversy goes, past record shows that Google will somehow again prevail. But in an age when privacy of ordinary people are being trampled over left, right and centre, history will remember where Google stood in that equation. It is altogether another matter how much of human history still remains to unfold.

Zafar Anjum is the online editor of MIS Asia portal.   

 

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