June 17, 2005: In response to our freedom of information request, the University of Michigan revealed their secret agreement with Google.
It's the year of the rat for Yahoo in China. Google, Microsoft, and Cisco are also invested in China. All four have made concessions to China's control of the Internet. Your first task is to read this book as a homework assignment. Now for a scenario:
1. The University of Michigan library lets Google scan its books so that Google can use them in its search engine. The library is aware that Google logs all search terms, IP addresses, unique cookie IDs, and anything else they can, whenever anyone uses any of its services. The University does not care about this at all. "We are always concerned about protecting our users' privacy and privacy in general, but we have no particular concern with Google or other search engines in a networked world," said James Hilton, University librarian, in June 2005.
2. Suppose that Google scans and indexes some books on the democracy movement in China. There are perhaps at least one or two of these among the seven million books that the University hopes Google will scan.
3. Chinese officials decide that they need to know who in China may be searching for keywords that produce these books. They ask Google for the IP address, cookie ID, search terms, and date and time of all users in China who made searches that led to Google showing snippets or pages to that searcher from these books that Google got from the University library.
4. Like Yahoo, Google decides that complying with this request is a simple matter of complying with the laws of the host country. They have too much invested in China to risk getting thrown out of the country for refusing the request.
5. China identifies the specific computer that made the request, based on the IP address and the cookie ID that they found after checking the machines at the Internet cafe. They have the date and time stamp from Google, and use this to get the name of the searcher from the cafe's owner. All users of machines in the cafe have to present an ID before they log on.
6. China sentences the searcher to jail for ten years for violating some vague law, just like they did in the Yahoo case.
Quiz question: Who shares responsibility in addition to the Chinese officials who enforce repression? Google, of course. To what extent does the University library share responsibility? How about other administrators and the Regents, who have refused to address this situation? What about the student newspaper, which supports the University library? What about the students who failed to demand that the library consider some guidelines about what sort of books should be withheld from Google?
The University library must not hand over politically-sensitive material to Google, when innocent people will probably go to jail for trying to access this material on Google.
Mr. Maurice J. (Mitch) Freedman
American Library Association
Dear Mr. Freedman:
As you may recall, since you reprinted my nine "Big Brother" points about Google in your newsletter about 18 months ago, I run the site www.google-watch.org.
There are issues with Google that have come to light since then. Today the privacy situation is more serious than the points I made 18 months ago. These issues were exposed due to Google's introduction of Gmail last April. Since then Google has admitted that they use a single cookie with a unique ID in it across all of their various services. We already know that they save the IP address and search terms of all searches done at Google, in addition to the unique cookie ID. By now they've also collected millions of email addresses due to the wide interest in Gmail. This makes the cookie ID "personally identifiable."
You have probably read about Google's agreement with various libraries to digitize a portion of their collections. This has been in the news during the past few days. (If not, you can search for "google" and "libraries" on any current news site.)
I was one of the signers of the letter at www.privacyrights.org/ar/GmailLetter.htm. Now I am interested in helping put out a similar letter with respect to Google's plans to digitize material from libraries.
It is my feeling that those librarians who contract with Google for access to their books and documents for purposes of digitization should require that any future searches done on Google that produce this material, must respect the anonymity of the searcher. This would mean that Google cannot record the IP address or unique ID from the cookie for such searches. Short of this, another alternative would be for libraries to deny Google access to any literature that has political content or relevance.
As I understand it, for legal reasons Google will be interested primarily in material that is not copyrighted.* But this could include a lot of political and anarchist material from 100 years ago. What, for example, would prevent Google from supplying to the FBI a list of those who read Marx, if required to do so by subpoena?
I'm aware that the ALA is already involved with discovery and lobbying on this issue with the Justice Department over practices that grew out of the USA Patriot Act. But keep in mind that the scale of anything Google does is a million times larger than the scale of anything that involves discrete libraries, access to paper hard copy, and occasional subpoenas for specific information. Perhaps the scale of what Google does is even ten million times larger.
Google is increasingly turning into a portal, in which the more Google knows about its users, the more competitive Google becomes for purposes of targeted advertising. This targeted advertising is over 95 percent of their gross revenue, and it is obviously their main priority. The new Google Groups Beta is merely the latest manifestation of this. Other major players such as Yahoo, Amazon, and Microsoft are also very interested in "personalized search." My concern is that libraries may get sucked into this scenario if they don't take steps now to make their priorities clear. Google, Yahoo, Amazon and Microsoft are already unstoppable, but librarians still have time to speak out.
A failure to act now could undermine decades of responsiveness to the public sphere on the part of librarians in general and the ALA in particular. There is a small window of opportunity here to raise this issue. The Internet moves very quickly, and the press gets bored with old issues quite easily. We'd have to act now.
I'd be interested in hearing from you about whether the ALA might endorse the anonymity requirement, and how I could go about making further inquiries to the ALA.
*Google has made arrangements with the New York Public Library and the libraries of Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Oxford and the University of Michigan. Stanford and Michigan will let Google digitize everything. New York and Harvard agreed to pilot projects. Oxford agreed only to books and documents prior to 1901. To address copyright issues, Google will divide material into three categories: 1) public domain material that is displayed in its entirety without ads, 2) copyrighted material that shows only snippets and bibliographic information, and 3) copyrighted material where the publisher has agreed to allow a portion to be displayed by Google, along with sponsored links that return some money to the publisher.