Privacy Recommendations for the Google Book Search Settlement
The settlement of the copyright infringement lawsuit against Google for its Book Search tool will, if approved, dramatically alter the way the public obtains and interacts with books. With its new offerings, Google will considerably increase public access to millions of books containing much of the world’s written knowledge and ideas. Moreover, Google’s powerful book search engine will transform how the public conducts research, interacts with written text, and shares information and ideas with others. The settlement deserves court approval because it will unquestionably provide a significant public benefit at a size and scale that is not otherwise likely to be replicated in the near term.
However, the settlement is not perfect and many parties are likely to provide recommendations as to how to address various perceived shortcomings. It will be important for the court to assess these claims. In particular, given the unique role that Google will assume upon approval of the settlement—that of a comprehensive library for research and browsing as well as a major bookstore—we believe that questions of reader privacy must be addressed. Libraries have a long history of protecting reader privacy and safeguarding the right to read anonymously. Indeed, patron circulation records are protected by law against undue disclosure in almost all states in the United States. But, because the settlement is focused specifically on resolving the copyright dispute between Google and the rightsholders, the agreement does not address the full range of reader privacy issues that will confront the new services.
Significant work remains to address that gap and ensure that historical reader privacy protections are not lost as library functions are centralized and moved online. At a minimum, before the settlement is approved, Google should issue a set of privacy commitments that explains both its general approach to protecting reader privacy and its process for addressing privacy in greater detail as Google Book Search moves forward. Since further detail regarding privacy matters may need to be fleshed out over time as the services are built, the court should monitor implementation of these privacy commitments as part of its ongoing supervision of the settlement. Critically, this structure—a set of evolving privacy commitments with court supervision—does not require an alteration of the current settlement.
This document identifies and analyzes the privacy risks posed by different aspects of the proposed services and makes specific policy recommendations for protecting reader privacy.