DOJ 0.75 – Google 0.25

So it looks like the judge in the DOJ vs Google case is siding with the Bush Administration and against privacy. CNN has a nice writeup on what just went down and MSNBC has similar coverage. While Google is apparently claiming victory because they did not have to give up all of the information that the DOJ requested, this is definitely not the sort of precedent we would like to see established. When I worked at the US Mint, one of my favorite people there had a saying I find particularly appropriate here.

Once the camel’s nose is in the tent… the camel is in the tent.

The specifics of the case are related to a request for data from Google to support the government’s position in a case dealing with pornography and filtering software’s ability to block it from children. They originally requested a month’s worth of search data, but the ruling today seemingly limits the scope to a much smaller cross-section of random samples with no personally identifiable data. This ruling just sets the stage for making it easier for them to dig deeper next time.

Still, I am perhaps more worried about Google’s fickleness than I am the DOJ’s desire to get insights into searching behaviour as it relates to pornography. With their recent capitulation to the Chinese on censoring its search results so that it can cozy up to the powers that be, the grandstanding on this important privacy issue does not bring it back in the ‘do no evil camp’ they claim to host.

In fact, Danny Sullivan laid out a great piece yesterday entitled “25 Things I I Hate About Google“. It was Google’s acquisition of Writely that took Danny over the top prompting him to exclaim [give me a break from] “Google going in yet another direction when there is so much stuff they haven’t finished, gotten right or need to fix.” He is absolutely right – they have gotten that Monopoly power all hoarded up and are no longer acting like an organization that cares deeply about surprising and delighting its users as it did in the early days. I heard Cal speaking a few weeks back with some friends and he said that Flickr once had something like 40+ releases of the site code in one day – I wonder how many Gmail or Gtalk have gone through since launching and how often they have done so?

While I am very glad that Google has stepped up to fight the DOJ on this, and I believe that many of the executives managing the China deal also fought a hard lost losing battle against censorship, I have very mixed feelings on this issue. While the reality is that they used the system as best as they could in the DOJ case by investing in the legal battle and they would have been locked out of China had they not capitulated, there comes a time where the stand we make for what is right is more important than the principle of compromise. The hard part is deciding which issues are important enough to fight to the end for without compromising too much of your principles.

We dealt with this briefly on a less important issue at the One Web Day planning dinner last week in SF when discussing the Net Neutrality issue and the involvement of the Telecoms. My initial reaction was that the celebration of the Web Susan Crawford is organizing should not involve those like AT&T Charirman Ed Whitacre who are working to destroy the very thing we are celebrating by restricting access via tarriffs. That we should take a stand on this issue by not inviting them to the party. Susan however, was adamant that the tent is big enough for everyone – while I would like to agree and do so in principle, I do wonder if this might be a place where we can take a stand and get everyone else to take a stand too.

Bottom line – polite golf clap round of applause for Google taking the stand on this issue, but let’s all hope they can apply the ‘do no evil’ policy more consistently in the future.

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