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Google's privacy fight with the government

We asked John Battelle at the Web 2.0 Conference last fall what he thought could hurt Google, what event or action could ultimately get in the way of the company's meteoric rise. Battelle, who wrote the book The Search, said that if Google got emeshed in a privacy controversy, where it was revealed that private user data was abused or got in the wrong hands, Google's tenuous compact with its users could be severely damaged.

This case may not be turn out to be that watershed moment, but as colleague Howard Mintz points out in a story he wrote today, Google is now embroiled in an interesting privacy battle with the government

From Howard's story:

The Bush administration on Wednesday asked a federal judge to order Google Inc. to turn over a broad range of material from its closely guarded databases.

The move is part of a government effort to revive an Internet child protection law struck down two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. The law was meant to punish online pornography sites that make their content inaccessible to minors.

In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Justice Department lawyers revealed that Google has refused to comply with a subpoena issued last year for the records, which include a request for one million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period....

The government argues that it needs the information as it prepares to once again defend the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act in a federal court in Pennsylvania. The law was struck down in 2004 because it was too broad and could prevent adults from accessing legal porn sites....[T]he government has subpoenaed search engines to develop a factual record of how often Web users encounter online porn and how Web searches turn up material they say is ``harmful to minors.''

Google is fighting the subpoena.

Many of the details of this case are unclear, such as the extent of the information the government is requesting and its legal reasoning behind its request. The government is also asserting that other search engines complied with similar requests. But it doesn't name them.

Many privacy experts have been waiting for a case like this. As Battelle points out in his book, search engines are aggregating massive amounts of information about their users - their searches and clickstreams reveal a lot about who they are and what they care about. What happens when that information gets out into the wilds or into the hands of the government? Can it, would it be tracked back to named individuals? What will that do to users' confidence in search engines?

We talked briefly with noted privacy expert Lauren Weinstein tonight. He was hesitant to say too much about the case without knowing more details. But he applauded Google for refusing to comply with the subpoena.

"It's interesting and disappointing that other search engines would provide this material. It's what we've been worried about all along. The fact that Google is refusing the subpoena...my initial reaction is three cheers for Google.''

"But there is a sidebar to this,'' he added. "Part of the reason these problems come up is because this data is being retained in the first place.''

Weinstein pointed to new rules adopted by European lawmakers that require ISPs and other companies to retain certain types of data for up to two years as a way to help fight terrorism.

This is not just a privacy fight. Google has apparently argued to the court that releasing the information would reveal company secrets.

Ray Everett-Church, a Silicon Valley privacy authority, said this case appears to be an "atypical use of subpoena power" because the government is not targeting an individual as part of a criminal investigation, but rather collecting data to make a point in another case.

"It certainly sets a dangerous precedent for the government to say, 'We need this to make a point, so cough up your log data.' It's a remarkable leap for the government, and not one I've seen before.''

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Living the observed life in the digital world
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This is going to get interesting if one of the big Internet companies goes on record fighting an American subpoena and complying with a Chinese request.

Dylan Salisbury on January 19, 2006 11:18 AM
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This has nothing to do with privacy and that argument won't fly. This has to do with the fact Google make porn available to children online without the USC dislclaimer.

Maybe you Bay/Valley Google hypsters want to stick your head in the sand but once the bible belt learn how kids can just type 'fetish' in Google image search and have some nice things to see, no amount of Google hyping will save them...

Ed on January 19, 2006 2:46 PM
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Ed - it's not just Google that has the potential for kids to make such image searches. It is the responsibility of the parents and the schools to make sure that kids are not accessing inappropriate material, not Google's, or any other search engine.

Furthermore, Google has a content filter with a password on it, so that parents can stop their kids from using their search engine for explicit viewing.

I will not go into any more detail, because it sounds like you aren't the type to listen to reason. Get your facts straight, then make an intelligent argument. One more thing: not all of us are dumb enough to believe in the bible, so don't base your argument on theology, base it on fact.


Overkill on January 20, 2006 12:00 AM
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Agreed, I don't think one can lay blame for minors accessing inappropriate content whilst unsupervised.

What does that mean? Some kid finds out the cable PIN and watches porn all night leads the cable provider being held responsible?

Give me a break - stand up and take resposibility for your children.

Cole on January 20, 2006 6:47 AM
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Overkill and Cole,

I'm the kind of that that does listen. However, I find your argument kind of weak in the same sense of saying parents should take responsbility for children not drinking underage, smoking or engaging in adult activities. Those are things that parents can't control because of peer pressure. The us government and corporate responsibility have taken a very active stance to educate the media against activities like this but the Google hypsters who write blogs and claim to know everything about Google ignore this simple fact - children are viewing porn at an alarming increasing rate and Google is right now one of the biggest distributor of such porn from their Image Search.

This is not Grand Theft Auto San Andreas teenagers get from the video store or some R-rated movie that parents condone their kids to see...this is some extremely explicit porn (more explicit than the entire porn magazine rack) that children can now easily access from any computer in the world. Spare me the excuse about filters - any teenager will bypass just as fast as a explicit lyric sticker except there is no one to warn them about what they are potentially exposed to.

No, I'm not religious but I just love to see how those fast those bible-thumpers start spreading the word about this serious level of filth that is now viewable by children. I'm pretty sure Pat Robertson need a crusade to ride on and you Google hypsters don't have enough blogs to go against that. And I want to see that lame 'parent should take resposibility' excuse be used as a defense against that tide...

BTW, blame me all you want..I'm not the one bragging/blogging about a company that is polluting the minds of our teenage children everyday with extreme filth...kids got enough stuff to deal with.

Ed on January 20, 2006 7:16 AM
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I still haven't heard a good explanation of why the government needs a past, "random" collection of search records.

If they want to get an idea of how often porn surfaces in search results, can't they perform their own queries? Or haven't they learned how to use Google yet?

Brad on January 20, 2006 7:59 AM
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"The law was meant to punish online pornography sites that make their content inaccessible to minors."

Did I read that wrong!? Shouldn't it say "...pornography sites that _DON'T_ make their content inaccessible to minors"?

Eric on January 20, 2006 12:17 PM
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Dylan Wrote: This has nothing to do with privacy and that argument won't fly. This has to do with the fact Google make porn available to children online without the USC dislclaimer.

Dylan, if that is the standard, then the entire internet should be posted with warnings. Parents are the warning label and the gatekeeper for their children when it comes to speech, not the government.

Tony on January 20, 2006 12:20 PM
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You all are conservative dumbasses, if you want the government being able to see what u search for online along with the new wiretaps be my guest but do in another country. I refuse to allow governtment to continue to take more control than it has.

Zach on January 20, 2006 12:42 PM
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The kind of information the Dubya administration wants from ISPs like Google is the EXACT SAME information ISPs are routinely required to turn over in that great country Red China. Also, just like that aforementioned totalitarian state, the claim of protecting children from inappropriate content is just the wrapping paper on the overarching goal of censoring the internet. They are certain in the knowledge they know better than you what's best for you and they are unwavering in their desire to use police power to protect you from you.

Of course, if Google doesn't turn over the data, the NSA can just hack into their systems and get it anyway...

Marvin on January 20, 2006 12:51 PM
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What I find amazing is how MSN and Yahoo obliged the subpeona without a struggle. Is it no surprise the Google is eating their lunch? They know what battles to fight and how to fight them. Yahoo management is so clueless it is a joke. Google gets the press on defending privacy for for peanuts. Hate to say it, but as a result people looking for porn will go to Google and that will just drive more revenue to them over this.

The bigger question is this: can the government use subpeonas to go on fishing trips? They have no probable cause here...they just want data to see how much people are looking FOR porn as some measure of society's decline or something.

Steven on January 20, 2006 1:04 PM
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Remember who we are dealing with, here, folks. The U.S. Government. They are the biggest liars and killers in the Northern Hemisphere. They have no constitutional right to "fish" using subpeonas as bait! As trite as it may seem, it IS the parents responsibility to monitor their children. Case freaking closed! With this subpeona, the government is just pushing our freedoms further and further out the window. I DEMAND a right to privacy. What I search for is my business, and no one else's. If this subpeona is upheld and the government gets to pick over our searche information, then how long will it be before you are forced to prove your own innocence based on that data?
The current happenings in our country: groups wanting to ban certain types of weapons, the CARNIVORE program monitoring our e-mails, the current wiretapping debacle, and having our search records in government hands, etc. are all strikingly reminiscent of 1930's Germany (without the hi-tech angle). Pretty soon we'll all expected to be good little Jews and get on the nice, shiny boxcar. And, no. I'm not being paranoid. History CANNOT teach lessons that we refuse to learn.

Storm on January 20, 2006 1:57 PM
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The expressed purpose of the governments request was to estimate how much pornography shows up in the searches that children might do. How they could determine which searches were done by children and which searches were done by adults is a mystery. There are serious privacy and legal issues with this request. But in the digital age there is very little privacy.

Bill Gates and other executives at Microsoft have had all of their email captured by legal teams for various law suits at one time or another. Bill Gates once said "We live the observed life". Translation...assume that everything you say, write, or do will be reviewed by a team of lawyers...with the worst of intentions.

I wrote a blog on the subject of privacy, the limits of presidential power, and how judge Alito's supreme court nomination might effect decisions on this subject. You can read the whole thing here http://dondodge.typepad.com/the_next_big_thing/2006/01/living_the_obse.html

Don Dodge on January 20, 2006 7:17 PM
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The Government wants Goggle search records to accomplish what? The Bush Administration plans to revive a child protection law that was written too broadly to comply with the constitution. The amendments to the constitution are well written and are clear and precise. Where is the same succinct language to characterize prono? Can anyone provide me with a precise definition for a law to prevent access to pornography by children that does not abridge the freedom of speech?
Child pornography is a crime. That law can be defined and enforced with alacrity. A child engaged in sexual activities suffers damage. Suppose a child views an image of a naked body, what is the damage? Suppose a child views a number of naked human bodies and sexual anatomy is included; what is the damage to the child. Suppose a child views an image of naked bodies engaged in some of the more creative sexual activity; is there damage?

The publication of data on the Internet provides a great amount of data, which is capable of being searched. Goggle has a very advanced search engine and provides research data of amazing value and usefulness to university students, researchers in business, the salt of the earth: men, women and children. The value is significant and important.

The Bush Administration is on a fishing expedition and has no legitimate reason to dig into our private affairs. The freedom of speech is more important than a lame excuse for why they need information about our affairs. We should demand a clear explanation for what the Administration plans to do with the data? Where are the details and legal precedent?

Do you want to limit your childrenās access to the Internet? Then become an educated parent and learn how to manage your affairs and the technology you purchase. Do you really think that the government could actually manage to limit porno on the Internet without blundering and floundering? We would only end up with limited access to the value of the Internet.

Become self reliant, and a better parent. Take care of yourself and your family and I will do the same.
bible on the new technology called the printing press

PwhatsNameGrosjean on January 21, 2006 11:38 AM
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One more thing. This really does seem to me like a bunch heavy handed bureaucrats trying to open the flood gate to controling our personal lives and the flow of information. This needs to be nipped in the bud. I don't trust any government. Don't Tread on Me.

Coleoptera on January 21, 2006 3:52 PM
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To everyone screaming the lame argument of parent responsbility, a lot, in fact a overwhelming majority of children either do not have parents or have parents that do not care (abuse).

Start thinking about children instead of the $20 Adsense revenue you are constantly checking your mailbox for.

And you have no darn privacy when you submit a search request to a private corporation that logs it as much as you have no privacy when you swipe a grocery store keycard that identify what products you buy..

Ed on January 21, 2006 8:40 PM
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an idea arose

1. Johnny looked up Sunstitute, Inc. in California, and sneeked in with Morpheus. It turned out that
Sunstitute Inc. was a humanoid company from the
future who came back in time. They found gadgets
from the future, such as skis that fly. Johnny and Morpheus has tryied out those skis and had fun.

2. Terminator skunks from the future arrived, and an ancient sect on Earth, the vampires, involved Johnny and Morpheus about the war. The terminator skunks were originally pet toys in the future, which grew so smart, that one day, they took over humanity, and those who escaped became space pirates, among this company which settled on Earth called Sunstitute Inc. They had little value for humanity, and all they knew is robbing it and selling their treasures to other planets.

3. The war broke out, and the ancient sect got involved. Basically vampires who could fly and had potions and were able to walk through walls and had other ancient potion powers. The ancient sect had close ties to witches, who existed and were separate from this sect.

4. Johnny became a vampire during this war between the robo-skunks and the space pirates, and Morpheus used the help of witchcraft to revive him after an unfortunate accident which left Johnny the vampire, dead.

George Bajszar on January 22, 2006 12:42 PM
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Here is a scene, where Johnny left alone in pace by Drakula in a space suit, and the arriving robo-skunk UFO-s picked him up as they were heading straight toward Sunstitute:

The vampires gathered and sat down to listen to the
outdoor concert. It was Beethoven's Klavierkonzert Nr. 3. Finally Drakula walked in, the music began, and he sat down. Some vampires were still talking quietly. Drakula looked around, put his index finger on his mouth and said:

Everybody quieted. He turned forward, and listened
to the music.

Their faces resembled historic times. A young vampire was chewing on a pen. The audience faded into a black and white "1920" silent film.

The UFO-s flew in and landed around the Sunstitute
building. Employees in the window looked out the

Someone pointing out and saying with a subtitle:

"The Terminator Skunks are here, they have spotted us! Prepare for immediate evacuation, get the UFOs, quickly!"

The large number of skunks began exiting from their
spaceships, among them from a ship a man walked out
slowly in an astronaut suit. The skunks were gathering from every direction toward the building, they were walking clumsily.

A man in a helicopter speaking into a microphone:

Subtitle: "We are seeing millions of skunks! Oh wait. We are also seeing... oh my god! A gigantic skunk is approaching!"

The man next to the reporter in the helicopter speaks:

Subtitle: "Skunkzilla!???"

As the vampires listened to the music, and the concert went on, a girl in the audience closed her eyes, and trees appeared, with black birds flying...

The Sunstitute building appeared. People in
Sunstitute were shown screaming at the window while
holding their noses, as millions of robo-skunks
lined up standing in silence.... Skunkzilla with a Hitler face opened her mouth, and spoke, with a silent subtitle:

"Come out and surrender, or we'll raise the fart by a thousand skunks every hour!"

People in Sunstitute were choking and crying, and took off their clothes, exposing their evolutionarily mutated bodies with green and orange veins running through their white future bony structures.

Many black birds appeared and rotated above the
building in large crowds. Drakula was flying, behind him the army of beasts, and sissing his mouth, showing his beastly teeth, he landed down in front of the building, and faced the skunks.

The skunks blew a large brown cloud at him. He opened his arms and like bird's wings, blew the cloud back with his swings. The other beasts joined in with the bird swinging, surrounding the whole building. The people inside were feeling that the air was making it back into the building again.

The fart cloud grew ever greater. The battle went on. Skunkzilla blew the greatest farts at Drakula, which was so loud, that it created an Earthquake and even a tornado appeared. The nearby city was covered in brown fume, people were evacuating the city in panic. Other luckier ones were wearing gas masks.

At one time the vampires were flattened to the wall of the building from the winds, and couldn't hardly flap any more, and they sunk through the wall into the Sunstitute building.

The beasts immediately rushed to save the humanoid
creatures from the robo-skunk's destructive gasses. Drakula and his beasts began flying the creatures out and landing them to safety, and back. The creatures in the building were laying on the floors, breething with difficulties, and the evacuation went on dramatically.

Out of nowhere Sunstitute UFO-s appeared and began
transporting their people out of the building. They
accidentally transported a few helping vampires too. Other UFO-s were shooting at the robo-skunks. The vampires were flying around the building, in the midst of a sea of black birds, "brown" fumes and UFO-s were shooting laser into the chaos.

The "astronaut" walked forward in the midst of this
chaos in solo. He looked up at the UFO-s...

He turned around and began walking away from this
fiasco around him. He kept walking and walking
as fast a he could. When he was maybe a kilometer
or two away, he opened his helmet, removed it,
and threw it to the ground. He continued walking
away, and he opened up his space suit.

Then Drakula flew in, opened his mouth,
and bit Johnny on his neck and sucked his
blood. After Drakula had his drink, he flew
back into the air, and left Johnny on the street,
who fell on his knees, then Johnny sat down on
the curb.

- -

Two female vampires appeared. They are younger
and are not taking part of the war against
the robo-skunks. Johnny stayed sitting in his
astronaut outfit. The girls sat down next to him.

One of the vampire girls: "So you are a vampire
now... Hmm... Drakula is very old, he has fake teeth, he cannot turn anybody into a vampire, he does drink blood though. Don't worry, you are not a
vampire. If I'd bite you, you'd become a vampire."

Johnny: "Great, have some of my blood!"

The Vampire girl: "Don't worry. Come." -
she reached out her hand.

A large group of UFO-s silently zoomed by above.

Her nails were black and long. As she reached out
her hand to help, Johnny got up, but he let go of
her hand and began walking. They walked along on
his side.

Behind a UFO was following them.

The UFO moved in, and picked them up, like a
chair underneeth, they were lifted into
the air. They sat on the UFO. The girls were
holding onto him so he wouldn't slip.

"Hey girls, this stuff is really great, come
inside!" - a head appeared at the top of the

The girls pulled Johnny up and helped him get inside.

Young vampire dude: "This thing has a time machine. It has energy to travel without refueling for 400 years. And look at this microwave. Tea please!" - tea appeared - "Would you like some tea?"

Johnny: "No, thanks."

First girl: "A cup of chicken blood, please."
-- cup of chicken blood appeared -- "Life is good." - she continued - "I am never going to leave from here. Why would these Sunstituters, having such technology want to pirate 2006 Earth? Can you
believe it? Pet robo-skunk toys became so smart
in the future, that as they became popular toys,
one day they decided to turn humans into their
own pets. They were programmed to be pets, and
bad pets had to be punished... By the way these
UFO guys are a group of humans who escaped our
planet from the robo-skunk society, part of a
human society which built a new planet for
themselves. And one day, a mad scientist
crashed the human-built planet into the robo-
skunk colony on Earth, and what was left of humanity were pirates."

Second girl: "I wanna see that! When did that

Vampire dude: "In 3502AD."

Second girl: "How does this time machine work?"

Vampire dude: "Set the year here, and push go.

A vortex formed. They entered a vortex of light,
and came out. Earth appeared. Near it in space
was a flat planet, harboring humanity. The flat
planet was close to Earth.

Vampire dude: "There it goes."

The flat planet was visibly moving toward Earth.

Johnny: "You guys, I don't wanna see this."

Vampire dude: "You don't have to look at it."

Johnny: "I am not feeling well."

Vampire girl: "Come here."

She layed Johnny on her lap, and with her long vampire nails she was caressing his face.
The flat planet began crashing into Earth.

The planets were crashing for a minute or so, Johnny saw a lot of flashing lights. He fell asleep.

George Bajszar on January 22, 2006 1:10 PM
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1. Turning into opposing Google.
2. Writing a film about future pirate-sects.
3. Going insane, following Google news stories.
4. Waiting for the world to realize.

A film I never wanna make.

George Bajszar on January 22, 2006 1:24 PM
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Do not contact me @ gb6724@yahoo.com

Shniff the shtick.

George Bajszar on January 22, 2006 3:02 PM
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Ok,Google it looks like it's up to you to protect the American way...so, don't you dare give in! You have earned my utmost respect!!

Hiwaymutt on January 25, 2006 5:43 PM
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