How Far Should Google Go To Protect User Privacy In Lawsuits?

from the questions-questions dept

We've already discussed the ridiculous circumstances under which a model, Liskula Cohen, ended up getting a judge to order Google to reveal an anonymous blogger who Cohen felt defamed her by calling her a "skank," among other things. That no longer anonymous blogger, Rosemary Port, is now planning to sue Google, though it seems her chances of winning are slim to none. Still, the whole thing did raise questions about the level to which Google should go to protect the anonymity of people who use its services.

This issue is getting more attention, as Google has apparently alerted some anonymous Caribbean journalists that it may hand over their information due to a defamation lawsuit filed against the journalists, concerning their investigations into corruption in the famed vacation resort Turks & Caicos Islands. One of the people accused of being involved in the corruption filed the lawsuit, and Google sent the site a letter, saying:
To comply with the law, unless you provide us with a copy of a motion to quash the subpoena (or other formal objection filed in court) via email at legal-support@google.com by 5pm Pacific Time on September 16, 2009, Google will assume you do not have an objection to production of the requested information and may provide responsive documents on this date.
Some are making a big "First Amendment" deal out of this, but it's not clear that's such a huge deal. Google, as a private company, can choose to reveal that information, and appears to be properly notifying the people in question of the legal situation and allowing them to respond. But, of course, some insist that Google should stand up for the privacy rights of its users, and there's an argument to be made there. How far should Google be expected to go to defend the privacy of its users in the face of a court order or subpoena? Given Google's reputation as being user friendly, many would expect it to go quite far, but is that reasonable? Is there a balance between obeying court orders and subpoenas and fighting for its users' rights? Or should Google always default to defending its users' rights as far as possible?

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  1. icon
    Pjerky (profile), 31 Aug 2009 @ 9:52pm

    Very Complex...

    This is a very complex issue I think. On one hand I have always looked up to Google as a very respectable organization and have come to expect much from them in terms of protecting rights and privacy. On the other hand their history has been more about general rights, not rights for a specific person and it is a lot to expect them to deny court orders in all cases when they are trying to make things better for all.

    I personally hate that these people and companies overreact to mouthy bloggers and I really support protecting anonymity just to shut down frivolous lawsuits. I would like to think that if I were in Google's position I would fight tooth and nail to protect this ideology of mine. But I really can't say for sure what I would do because if you go too far then you risk shutting down your business and making your employees lose their jobs and I can't support that results either.

    In this case, I think Google did the right thing by notifying the user weeks in advance so that they can take steps to protect their anonymity if they choose to do so. The whole situation is very frustrating. But I would like to see them focus on changing laws to protect all rights instead of protecting a few individuals that started the fight by running their mouths too much.

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