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Google Publishes Book Privacy Policy

Moving to mollify critics, Google is making its book privacy policy available.

Amid a concerted effort by competitors to derail the settlement of the Google Books lawsuit brought by authors and publishers, Google has published its Google Books Privacy Policy in an attempt to answer some of the criticisms of the settlement.

The company is also pointing people to correspondence it has had with the Federal Trade Commission that offers assurances about privacy issues related to the yet-to-be-implemented Book Registry, which will be operated by the publishing industry. Google has previously resisted calls to make clear commitments because many of the services at issue won't be designed until after the settlement is approved.

Jane Horvath, Google's global privacy counsel, reiterated that principle in a blog post on Thursday.

"As we noted in our letter to the FTC, because the settlement agreement has not yet been approved by the court, and the services authorized by the agreement have not been built or even designed yet, it's not possible to draft a final privacy policy that covers details of the settlement's anticipated services and features," she said. "Our privacy policies are usually based on detailed review of a final product -- and on weeks, months or years of careful work engineering the product itself to protect privacy."

Nevertheless, the exceptional resistance Google has encountered from Amazon, Microsoft, and privacy groups has prompted the company to fill in some details about its future plans.

"With respect to the new services that we will launch after the settlement is approved, we assure you that strict limits on the sharing of personal information will apply," Horvath says in her August 31 letter to the FTC. "We will not share our users' personal information with any third parties except under very limited and narrow circumstances set forth in the privacy policy."

Horvath also offers assurance that the Book Registry will have to use appropriate legal processes to seek information from Google, just like any other company or government agency.

What Google doesn't address is differing legal standards and processes for seeking digital information from service providers and general business records, not to mention libraries. A Google spokesperson has suggested that the company would like to see information demand rules harmonized but if the company is lobbying along these lines, its efforts haven't been made public.

Privacy groups that have argued online privacy protections for readers should match those of the offline world may not be satisfied by Google's privacy policy and supporting statements. But until anonymous online payments and fulfillment become possible, nothing will match the privacy of paying for a book with cash or reading in a public library.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on Google's upcoming Chrome OS. Download the report here (registration required).

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