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January 29, 2006

Comments

Michael Weiksner

You pose an interesting thought experiment about rights. But isn't the relevant question why use google?

There does seem something really bad about anyone have all that personal data aggregated in one place. Why contribute to that, when you can protect yourself by only accessing google anonymously or using a less well-known search engine that doesn't have as much value as an aggregator of personal info.

[Bob Wyman replies: My personal feeling is that the problem doesn't lie in the fact that the information has been aggregated in one place. Rather, I think the real risk here is that we will allow ourselves and others to think differently of the information aggregated at sites like Google than we think of the unaggregated information that we hold individually. The mere fact of aggregation isn't itself the problem. Only if we afford less protection to the aggregated information than we do to our unaggregated information do we risk misuse of that information by the government, by Google themselves or by some other agent...]

Richard Veryard

This looks like a "long tail" argument. Getting data from Google (the aggregator) represents a short-tail strategy for the US government. Using obscure search engines represents a long-tail strategy for the privacy-conscious consumer. In an asymmetric world, neither strategy is stable.

Malcolm Pollack

Hi Bob,
You may be overlooking an important legal asymmetry here. I think one could defensibly assert that since Google, in contrast to individual users, is the conduit through which all of the search-strings flow, Google qualifies as a "non-party witness" in a way that any individual user does not. The inquiry by the government is seeking search-strings _in aggregate_ in order to do statistical analysis. Individuals are not material witnesses to this aggregate data, whereas Google is.

Having looked at the relevant lines in the government's brief, it is rather difficult for me to see on what grounds Google can refuse the subpoena, unless there is already in place some specific confidentiality privilege as exists between doctors and lawyers and their customers. I don't think such protection exists in this case, though.

Mike

Bob

Watching with interest the problems you are encountering. May I say that you are approaching this very much the wrong way. Not your fault as this is a new arena for you. I may be able to help solve the problem for you or at the very least give you food for fault. I should know what I am talking about as I have been voted the UKs Number One Corporate and Governmental trouble-shooter for 8 years. You still have time to make the other shareholders think carefully - very carefully about their actions. Undoubtedly legal eagles are advising them - you need no less yourself.

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