Google Takes First Steps Toward Google Books Privacy Policy


The preliminary privacy policy, outlined in a blog posted late Thursday, comes before final court approval of a $125 million settlement with authors and publishers who sued Google in 2004 over Google Books.

Google has resisted creating a privacy policy for Google Books before the settlement is approved, saying the services that the settlement will allow had yet to be developed and even designed. But Google developed the new policy after conversations with FTC staff, according to the blog posted by Jane Horvath, Google's global privacy counsel.

Horvath notes that while Google Books will be covered by the same general privacy policy that governs all Google services, "We understand that the privacy of reading records is especially important to readers and libraries."

The new privacy policy includes honoring elements of the general privacy policy that appliesto Google Books, such as promising not to share with outside parties personal information provided by users of the service, as well as spelling out privacy controls specific to Google Books.

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The service's Book Rights Registry, for example, will not have access to individual user information unless it goes through proper legal processes. And Google will not require book searchers to create a Google account if they are viewing pages of books online, browsing books through a university's institution subscription to the service, or accessing the book service from a public terminal at a library.

"We know that users want to understand how Google's privacy practices apply to [Google] Books today, and what will happen after the settlement," Horvath said in the blog. "To provide all users with a clear understanding of our practices, and in response to helpful comments about needing to be clearer about the Books product from the FTC and others, we wanted to highlight key provisions of the main Google Privacy Policy in the context of the Google Books service, as well as to describe privacy practices specific to the Google Books service. We've also described some privacy practices for services created by our proposed settlement agreement, which is currently awaiting court approval."

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, in a brief statement released Thursday, said he was pleased Google "has listened to FTC staff's concerns and agreed to take initial steps, as outlined in the letters [between Google and FTC staff], to protect the privacy of Google Books users. As Google Books evolves, we'll work to ensure the privacy of online readers is fact, not fiction."

Google's settlement with authors and publishers has been under judicial review for almost a year. The deal is opposed by Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo and other organizations that are fearful of the power it will put in Google's hands over books. Earlier this week Amazon filed a brief with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York opposing the settlement.