Google’s Empire, Privacy, and Government Access to Personal Data
A New York Times editorial observes:
At a North Carolina strangulation-murder trial this month, prosecutors announced an unusual piece of evidence: Google searches allegedly done by the defendant that included the words “neck” and “snap.” The data were taken from the defendant’s computer, prosecutors say. But it might have come directly from Google, which – unbeknownst to many users – keeps records of every search on its site, in ways that can be traced back to individuals.
This is an interesting fact — Google keeps records of every search in a way that can be traceable to individuals. The op-ed goes on to say:
The government can gain access to Google’s data storehouse simply by presenting a valid warrant or subpoena. . . .
The New York Times op-ed goes on to criticize Google for not being a leader in protecting privacy:
It is hard to believe most Google users know they have a cookie that expires in 2038, or have thought much about the government’s ability to read their search history and stored e-mail messages without them knowing it. . . .
Google should develop an overarching privacy theory that is as bold as its mission to make the world’s information accessible – one that can become a model for the online world. Google is not necessarily worse than other Internet companies when it comes to privacy. But it should be doing better.
I agree with the op-ed, but I also think that businesses should use their power to push for greater legislative protections of personal information from government access. It is here were Google’s interests and the privacy interests of its users coincide. Right now, the government is inadequately regulated when it comes to accessing personal data maintained by third parties. If the businesses maintaining the data lobbied Congress for greater protections, this would help to address one of the major privacy threats that their maintaining the information poses. It wouldn’t solve all of the problems, but it would address a big one.
Thanks to Chris Hoofnagle and Steve Charnovitz for pointing me to this op-ed.