Google-DOJ Tussle On ABC News

    January 23, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

The mainstream media smelled the blood in the water and rushed to cover the now-public battle between the Department of Justice and Google over giving the government access to reams of search data.

The Googleplex became the setting for ABC News as it sent a reporter and camera team to Google’s Mountain View headquarters to find out more about the gathering legal storm over Google and its right to protect user privacy and internal trade secrets from the government.

Google co-founder Larry Page addressed the privacy issue in speaking to ABC News:

“Our company relies on having the trust of our users and using that information for that benefit,” said Page. “That’s a very strong motivation for us. We’re committed to that. If you start to mandate how products are designed, I think that’s a really bad path to follow. I think instead we should have laws that protect the privacy of data, for example, from government requests and other kinds of requests.”

The federal government believes it can get a favorable ruling on the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act, struck down two years ago by the Supreme Court. To bolster its appeal in federal court in Pennsylvania, Department of Justice attorneys contend they need search engine data to demonstrate that adult site publishers do not do enough to keep minors from finding their content.

Yahoo, AOL, and MSN have complied with these DOJ requests already; MSN and Yahoo both claim no personal data was included in what they turned over to Justice.

Google has dug in against the subpoenas likely to protect its trade secrets more so than user data the Feds could obtain from Internet service providers anyway. Whatever the reason for the showdown, Google has been punished by Wall Street. Friday trading, saw Google shares fall under $400 per share, dropping its market cap to $118 billion.

ABC also talked with search expert Danny Sullivan, the conversation being noted on Sullivan’s Search Engine Watch blog. Sullivan reiterated his previous post on the issue, calling the government’s probe “overkill” and that the government has no idea just how much data it is going to receive.

That volume of data posed the greatest concern to bloggers and other commenters on the issue. Many held thoughts similar to “The Search” author John Battelle, who called the DOJ request a “slippery slope.”

An unfortunate side effect of the publicity the story has gathered is how it pushes other stories out of the limelight that may merit even greater mainstream scrutiny than Gonzales v. Google. Ars Technica linked to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s alert about the return of the “broadcast flag” legislation to Congress.

Even though many millions more users will be affected if the legislation introduced by Gordon Smith (R-Ore) in the Senate becomes law, the Google story will continue to get the greatest focus from the likes of ABC and other mainstream outlets. That is a story in itself.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.