Over a year ago, I highlighted some of the privacy concerns related to the growing reliance on Google Book Search for our information-seeking needs. Recently, as the possible approval of the Google Book Search Settlement Agreement looms, various advocacy groups have again brought attention to the fact that Google might gain even greater ability to monitor the books you browse, the pages you read, and even the highlights and marginal notes you make on digital copies of books.
Notably, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU have called on consumers to pressure Google to build significant privacy protections into its Book Search service, demanding Google provide protection against disclosure of the books one reads, engage in limited tracking of user activities, provide users control over the data Google collects, and ensure transparency and enforceability of all privacy-related policies and procedures. The Center for Democracy & Technology followed with their own analysis and set of recommendations.
While Google has tried to appease the critics, it seems there are still many unanswered questions regarding ensuring reader privacy if the settlement gets approved, both in principle and practice. I’ll be working through these issues as I prepare a talk for the “Google Books Settlement and the Future of Information Access” conference organized by the UC-Berkeley Information School, and I welcome any suggestions or insights readers might have.