Friday, January 20, 2006

google resists evil


Aren't Republican administrations supposed to be business friendly?

Why is the federal government entitled to data mine a US corporation? The Department of Justice asked nice, was politely rebuffed, and now it has gone to court. Huh?
"Google's acceding to the request would suggest that it is willing to reveal information about those who use its services. This is not a perception that Google can accept."
--Google lawyer Ashok Ramani
If Google isn't the target of an investigation, what obligation does it have to provide the US government with any information? And why are all the other -- publicly-traded! -- companies complying in some way shape or form with this request, however innocuously portrayed? Why are Yahoo! and AOL and MSN not resisting?

Is this China?

Yahoo recently drew criticism for complying with an informational request by China, which used the information convict and jail a dissident. MSN also caught heat for shutting down access to a popular Beijing blogger.

In those cases it can generously be argued that it is necessary, within some as-yet untested limits, to acquiesce to a legal order of the country where you are doing business to have any chance of continuing to do business there.

But none of these companies have anything to fear from the United States except bad favor, and that for only the next three years perhaps, while they do have quite a lot to fear possibly forever from customers and shareholders. Google closed down nearly 8.5% to mid-November levels on a day when the NASDAQ lost 2.35%. I'd ask them if hits are up or down, but they have no obligation to tell me even though I am a citizen journalist and just might take them to court :).

Yes, no doubt the market was looking for an excuse to take a breath on a pricey stock that has seen no serious downside, but being in the government's crosshairs -- even if it isn't the SEC and there is no impropriety asserted -- is not a good thing. But there is no crime here, and the Internet companies are not targets of anything.

This is just a bid to gather information the Bush administration thinks it will help revive its case to enforce the Child Online Protection Act, which the US Supreme Court has rebuffed -- the textbook definition of a fishing expedition, as the mercurynews.com describes.

Don't tread on me -- no, give me broadband

This case also raises issues I would rather not worry about, but we all increasingly must. "My name is John A, and I am totally dependent on the Internet." I am in that fortunate generation that knew the world before the World Wide Web. I can now imagine the feelings of a previous generation, born to a world without television, who now get to watch "Lost" every week.

There may be no basis in the law, or corporate bylaws, to prevent a company from interpreting its privacy policies so that it becomes an investigative arm of government, but it is horrible policy.

It is bad enough that our consumption habits are habitually collected and archived and analyzed by the Googles and TiVos and [your local supermarkets] of the world, but at least there is a quid pro quo in the form of free services, targeted ads, better technology, discounts, etc. And, of course, we get to live in a world where these is no barrier to virtually any data from anywhere at anytime.

Why can't the Justice Department should just hire a couple of teenagers for intern pay to tell them all they need to know about Internet searches?

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