Google to Give User Data To Brazilian Authorities

Here’s a good example of the kind of information Google collects from users of its non-search products:

The Washington Post is reporting that Google will comply with a Brazilian court order to release data on users of its Orkut social networking site to help Brazilian authorities investigate use of the site related to racism, pedophilia and homophobia. The article explains Google’s logic as to why it was acceptable to release user data in this case, but not when the DOJ requested data earlier this year:

The Justice Department wanted Google’s entire search index, billions of pages and two months’ worth of queries, for a broad civil case. Brazil, by contrast, is looking for information in specific cases involving Google’s social networking site, Orkut.

“What they’re asking for is not billions of pages,” said Nicole Wong, Google associate general counsel. “In most cases, it’s relatively discrete — small and narrow.”

The Brazilian authorities are hoping to identify and locate a particular Orkut user, and Google’s server logs will likely provide the user’s IP address, time and date stamps, as well as the user’s e-mail address used to register for the service. It is important to note that if the user has been accessing Orkut with a Google Account (as all Orkut accounts are being migrated to GAs), Google knows not only when the user logged into Orkut, but also when any of Google’s other services were used with the same Google Account – the power of Google’s sticky memory.

UPDATE: From the comments, Seth Finkelstein points to his debunking of part of Google’s logic quoted above, correctly noting that the DOJ didn’t want “billions of pages” but, in the end, only requested 50,000 URLs from Google’s index for their statistical study. He also notes that the data the DOJ requested was “not intended to identify any particular person (even if some identification would in theory be possible, nobody was going to try to do it).” I tend to agree, especially since Google’s stance in the DOJ was likely more founded on protecting trade secrets than preserving user privacy.

All this said, the Orkut situation still reminds us of the data available to law enforcement within Google’s logs, and that even having the data stored in the U.S. may not protect it from foreign jurisdictions (ie, China).


  1. Pingback: Inside Orkut

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