Yesterday I mentioned the Google Books proposed settlement, along with the new concerns about consumer privacy. Today, there’s a story on Gawker/Valleywag about why the concerns about privacy may be well-founded.
The post examines three areas where Google is being asked to turn over quasi-anonymous information, and asserts that “if Google plans to roll over and reveal the identity of anyone doing something anonymously on the internet that pisses someone else off, we’re all screwed.” The three examples are:
- A decorating firm which wants Google to divulge who created a fake Gmail address in the firm’s CEO’s name, because that person sent apparently fraudulent emails to the firm’s clients;
- Liskula Cohen, who wanted Google to tell her who set up a blog that apparently called her a “skank”; and
- A developer who is suing Google to get the identities of a group of investigative journalists who apparently exposed the developer’s embroilment in a bribery scandal.
Google has taken the position that unless it receives a written
“motion to quash” the subpoena, it will release the information to the
developer’s attorneys. Many people in the free speech community are
alarmed at this potentially dangerous incursion, because of the belief
that vigorous, honest discourse will be stifled by fear of retribution
if personal, identifying information can be so easily obtained.
How protective of privacy is Google? And is there a difference between what these cases involve, and what is worrisome about the Google Books scenario? In other words, is Google going to be less protective of users’ identities when what is being sought are things like blog accounts or email addresses? Would Google be more protective of privacy if it’s just browsing habits that litigators and the government are after?
At first blush, it’s a little hard to say, because the quote from Ms. Salisbury isn’t linked to anything. (If anyone has it, that would be nice…) But, based on Google’s comments elsewhere, I think its safe to say, faced with a subpoena, Google’s not going to fight too hard; as a spokeswoman said in the Sydney Morning Herald article I linked earlier:
“We sympathise with anyone who may be the victim of cyber bullying. We also take great care to respect privacy concerns and will only provide information about a user in response to a subpoena or other court order.”
This topic is only going to get more interesting and complicated, and it just makes me wonder when we’ll see the first lawsuit born from a troll war? Perhaps it will be captioned “Smith a/k/a DangerDancer v. Jones a/k/a MeatHeadMcGee”… (I surely hope those aren’t real handles, and if so, I had no idea…)