Tag Archive for 'google'

EU Seeks to Extend “Right to Be Forgotten”

It’s rare for legal decisions in European Courts to affect Americans. However, the fight over the “right to be forgotten” could be the exception. Last year, EU courts created a “right to be forgotten,” mandating that Google remove links at an individual’s request.

google eu internet privacyFor example, suppose that your home was foreclosed and you were arrested for punching the sheriff who posted the notice to your door. A decade later, you’ve paid off the mortgage and the assault charges have been cleared. However, Google still has your mug shot and your foreclosure record.

If you live in Europe, you could request that Google remove links to information about your arrest and foreclosure from European servers like Google.de or Google.fr.

The main server, Google.com, however, will still retain these links, despite your request. In fact, European privacy groups believe that Europeans are turning to Google.com now that Google’s European servers have been compromised. And that’s exactly why European privacy groups are targeting Google.com next.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

The problem is that Europeans aren’t the only ones who use Google.com. The .com server is the server that most Americans use. If European countries require that Google censor web links on its .com server, then that information would also be censored in the United States as well. The consequences are too vast to be predictable, but I can think of a few.

For instance, Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown, could move to Europe and convincingly erase his name from Internet archives. Or what if an American opens a business with a European investor? It’s much harder to tell whether the investor has any shady dealings. Or what if you’re trying to sue a European citizen living in the United States? Although a competent attorney would not rely on the Internet during discovery, writing that claim might be harder if the defendant can magically hide his Internet presence.

What happens if the EU tries to force Google to restrict Google.com? First, it’s debatable whether EU courts have jurisdiction over a foreign company such that the EU could affect how Google manages its website overseas. Second, if the EU did have that power, I am currently unaware of an American law that would compel Google to keep information up. Or Google could ignore EU courts and accept whatever consequences that might entail.

If Google.com is such a problem, why can’t European countries just restrict citizens to European servers? Actually, that is a solution that some countries have taken up. The most prominent country that has limited its citizen’s Internet access is China.

If you’re in China, Google.com is inaccessible and you have to use Google.cn or Google.hk. In China, the purpose of blocking Google.com and restricting access to certain web pages is to keep the state, the Communist Party, and party leaders safe from political critique. Ironically, the EU will be enforcing a type of Internet censorship based on privacy rather than political oppression, but the outcome might still be the same.

Don’t Worry NSA, Google Has E-mail Surveillance Covered

It shouldn’t be surprising that Google monitors Gmail for child pornography. After all, this is the same company that scans e-mails and bombards uers with advertising for legal services. However, the scans of John Skillern’s Gmail will likely result in a lengthy prison sentence rather than annoying advertisements.

gmail surveillanceIn 2008, Google applied new software to its e-mail system. The software consists of a “database” of child abuse images (only data, no actual pictures!) which is compared to Gmail attachments. If there is a match, child protection agencies are alerted, who then send tips to local police.

The system is automatic, so Google employees aren’t involved in the process. Since Google’s e-mail system is the world’s largest web-based e-mail service, with about 425 million users worldwide, this system is one of the largest surveillance systems in human history.

A few weeks ago, Google’s new software led to the arrest of John Skillern. Skillern is a registered sex offender, convicted of sexually assaulting an eight year old boy in 1994. After Google scanned Skillern’s Gmail, police obtained a search warrant and allegedly found child pornography on his phone and tablet. The 41 year old Houston City restaurant cook was charged with one count of possession of child pornography and one count of the promotion of child pornography.

“Those Who Sacrifice Liberty for Security Deserve Neither”

Pedophiles who thought the “right to be forgotten” could shield their evil online are in for a rude awakening. There is no doubt that child pornography and the child abuse it promotes is profoundly wrong and people like Skillern deserve to rot in the deepest prison cells.

However, this type of surveillance is morally ambiguous at best and outright dangerous at worst. First, there’s the slippery slope argument. If Google can monitor private communications for child pornography, could they also monitor Gmail for drug use or criminal conspiracies? Can the software scan for politically sensitive issues like religion or terrorism? How about activists’ movements like Occupy or Tea Party? Surveillance always starts with good intentions. If the NSA has proven anything, it’s that employees of massive surveillance technology abuse it at the first opportunity.

Of course, slippery slopes are an easy argument, even if America’s legal system tends to ride slippery slopes all the way to crazy town. Google currently has little potential for employee abuse since Google’s system is automatic, with almost no human control. The software automatically compares data, not even actual photos, for a match. When Detective David Nettles said “I can’t see that photo, but Google can,” he was misleading reporters.

So what could go wrong when a computer system does all the surveillance? Ignoring the obvious Terminator reference, machines don’t understand context. Many child pornography laws require that the defendant have a certain state of mind, a criminal intent, for the defendant to be convicted. Suppose a defendant’s Gmail was hacked. Or a virus spread images of child pornography across random computers. Or if a child protection agency employee Gmailed a district attorney the photos as evidence. Google would pick out the transmissions, even though none of these cases would result in a conviction. Skillern looks like he possessed child pornography for the purpose of looking at and selling young children, but with 425 million users, there could easily be grey area cases.

What’s the Big Deal with San Francisco’s Tech Shuttles? – A Legal Review

If you’ve been to San Francisco recently, chances are you’ve seen the 18-foot tall white shuttle buses cruising up and down the city’s narrow roads. These shuttles are provided by Google, Apple, and other tech giants to ship their employees to and from their offices down the road in Silicon Valley. You also may have noticed quite a bit of outrage over these tall, wide buses.

google busAlthough these busses are operated by private companies, they use the same public bus stops that are maintained by tax payers. Many local residents (people directly affected by growing income gaps and skyrocketing rents) are asking “How is this legal?”

Are the Buses Violating Any Laws?

Initial protests around these buses decried them as an “illegal use of public infrastructure.” Unfortunately for protesters, that isn’t really anything besides a catchy slogan. There are ostensibly city ordinances and vehicle codes that apply and are being broken. For example, the most popular outcry is that private drivers face up to $271 for parking in a bus zone, yet these chartered buses have been left unregulated.

This sort of frustration is misdirected for a few reasons. First, these buses are not technically parking, but loading. Second, they are legally identified as buses, as defined by the vehicle code, and therefore that section of the code would not apply. Another avenue of regulation in the vehicle code is a section that prohibits motorists from impeding traffic. There is another section of San Francisco transit code that provides for loading zones of private buses, and it is possible that not using those could be punishable. However, these sorts of regulation would be a stretch. After all, it is a little extreme to expect someone to be ticketed or fined for stopping to pick up a friend for work at Hayes and Steiner.

Regardless of how you feel about a private bus using a public bus stop, the city is really handcuffed when it comes to any type of financial reregulation of this behavior. Proposition 218 essentially forbids cities from a fee structure that would charge these buses profitable fees. As it stands, San Francisco can charge these shuttles $1 a day, starting in July, and can do so for 18 months.

Are There Any Benefits to These Buses?

In February, Google donated almost $7 million dollars so that lower-income children can have free bus passes for almost two years. Furthermore, a study conducted by two UC Berkeley grad students indicates that these shuttles have a positive impact on traffic patterns, removing thousands from the already congested Bay Area roads.

So What’s the Big Deal?

These sleek, modern buses with tinted windows have come to indicate a type of class-warfare in an area where the gap between the wealthy and economically disadvantaged is staggeringly wide. Incredibly, evictions have increased by 1/3 since 2010. Since there is little to no movement on (or room for) new development, and rents continue to soar, despite San Francisco already being the most expensive city in the country per square-foot.

However, while these issues are all concerning, this rage is a bit misdirected. Local politicians and city planners should be the ones hearing these complaints, not people who have decided to live in a beautiful city, are simply trying to go to work, and are being offered a convenient way to do so. This is particularly true where these companies aren’t technically violating any laws, and have made efforts to help the city’s lower-income residents.

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Google Books Settlement Raises Copyright Concerns

The amazing world of reading has certainly felt the effects of digital technology.  Bookstores and magazine stands are quickly being replaced by online literature, electronic readers, and podcasts.  Even the act of reading itself may be slowly getting outdated.  As we’ve blogged about before, many e-book readers have audio reading functions that read aloud to you so you can proceed with your all-important multi-tasking while listening.

And recently Google was poised to take over the world of digital books.  For the last several years, Google has been in the process of acquiring and scanning the world’s books to build their online library collection.  It appears that Google was well on its way to creating the ultimate online beast of a library, if not for a federal judge who rejected a massive Google book agreement.

Google’s proposed agreement would have accomplished several things:  first, it would allow Google to be compensated for the book scanning and collecting it had done in the past.  Secondly, the agreement would have allowed Google to work in conjunction with several publishers to expand the library to create a massive multi-million title Google bookstore.

The deal would also have been effective internationally, and would allow Google to obtain and sell “orphan works”, or works where the author isn’t immediately known.  It would also allow Google to provide much longer scanned snippets of text for consumers to view before they finally purchase the literature.

Google’s proposed settlement has been initially rejected by Judge Chin in the case of Author’s Guild vs. Google.  Judge Chin cites three reasons why the Google Books agreement is bunk:  first, it would basically allow Google to monopolize the book search field; second, it would allow for invasions of personal privacy; and third, the $125 million deal would allow Google to appropriate copyrighted work without permission.

Now, it’s not so much the first two concerns that grab my attention- everyone knows that Google is already dominating the web, and our privacy is already shot to pieces.  Rather, it’s the copyrighting issues that concern me.  Google’s band-aid solution to the copyright question was this- concerned authors would be allowed to “opt out” of the settlement to protect their works.  Google even created a Book Rights Registry where copyright holders could submit claim forms for their works.

Is it just me, or does this seem completely backwards to you?  This is basically like saying, “we are appropriating your copyrighted works, and if you don’t like our program, we are being generous enough to allow you to opt out”.  Judge Chin recognized this and suggested that Google substitute an “opt-in” choice for the nonsensical opt-out procedure.

Before I continue my rant, I’d just like to say that I do think online and digital libraries are a great idea.  Electronic books certainly allow consumers to access titles that may be difficult to come across.  This is especially true with older titles and international works that aren’t available in the U.S.  And Google’s bookstore would potentially allow access to some of the most well-respected university libraries, such as the ones at Oxford and Harvard, an idea which I like very much.

But on the other hand, if you’re going to build an online digital book collection, it’s got to be done correctly!  You can’t just use people’s protected pulp without their permission.

And it has taken humanity’s lifetime to amass all the book knowledge- so really there shouldn’t be any rush to catalogue everything, especially without giving credit where it is due.

This case will definitely affect the literary world more than we may realize.  Judge Chin’s recent findings teach us the importance of protecting one’s intellectual and artistic creations.  It appears that the author of the (near) future may have to be as keen on their copyrights as they are on the stories they have to tell.  We may see the emergence of the author-lawyer who is skilled in the art of legal self-defense.

I believe that basic copyright knowledge will probably have to be integrated into any educational path towards authorship.  Part of the reason why “orphan works” exist is because writers don’t know about their literary rights to begin with.  Maybe as early as middle or high school, young writers should at least be informed of the great changes that are happening within literary channels, including all the different devices out there.  By the time college rolls around, potential authors should be allowed to take courses teaching them how to protect their works.

In the past, much knowledge was lost whenever a document or script was lost.  But the new challenge here doesn’t have to do with the books but with the authors themselves.  Trampling on author’s rights could create an even bigger mess than the destruction of the Alexandrian library.