Update: Members of the reading public can find detailed information on EFF's page on Google Book Search and Privacy. But EFF is also gathering a group of authors (or their heirs or assigns) and publishers who are concerned about the Google Book Search settlement and its effect on the privacy and anonymity of readers -- for more, visit EFF's page on Google Book Search for Authors and Publishers.
If you suspect you may have a serious disease, you can go into a bookstore and browse for books about your illness, find one that's useful, and buy it with cash. And you can rest assured that even if you get into a lawsuit with your insurance company or anyone else, they cannot find out about your choice of reading material.
If you are an author researching fringe political movements, you can walk into a library and explore the card catalog, pick a book and read up on communism, fascism, or any other controversial idea. And unless a spy is watching, there's no way your reading choices can be tracked by the government. Even if you check out a book, your reading history is protected by strong privacy laws.
This is the expectation of privacy we enjoy when it comes to books and reading. But this privacy could be eroded as books enter the digital world, where every click leaves a record.
As Google expands its Google Book Search service, adding millions of titles, it will dramatically increase the public's access to books. More and more people will soon be browsing, reading and purchasing books online. But Google may be leaving out the privacy we have come to expect, with systems that monitor the digital books you search, the pages you read, how long you spend on various pages, and even what you write down in the margins.
To ensure that our privacy remains at least as strong online as it is in the physical world, Google needs to do more. With the ACLU of Northern California and the Samuelson Clinic at UC Berkeley, EFF has written a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, demanding that Google take specific steps to protect your freedom to read privately. We've asked that Google only respond to legitimate warrants when the government comes calling, for example, and to quickly delete any information they gather about your searching for and browsing in books.
Now, we need you to join us in the fight to defend reader privacy — take action and tell Eric Schmidt that you demand the same privacy for your online reading habits that you enjoy when reading paper.
As Michael Chabon, author of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: A Novel, put it: "If there is no privacy of thought — which includes implicitly the right to read what one wants, without the approval, consent or knowledge of others — then there is no privacy, period."
If Google wants to be worthy of its goal of organizing and making accessible the world's knowledge, then it needs to respect its audience by not stockpiling private information about who we are and what we read, and not becoming a one-stop shop for government fishing expeditions into the reading habits of Americans. Send a message and stand up for the future of reader privacy now.