free html hit counter What's the Big Deal? | John Battelle's Search Blog

What's the Big Deal?

By - January 20, 2006

Goovdoj

…in the Google v. DOJ case? Well, I’ve argued it’s the slippery slope. But reading through the subpoena, it’s clear that from where Google stands, there’s something else at stake.

Remember this whole goat rodeo (on the size of indexes)? Remember how slippery both Yahoo and Google got when we tried to figure out exactly how many documents were in their indexes? Well, turns out, that’s pretty much what the DOJ is trying to do as well. Hence, Google’s defense on a “trade secrets” basis.

Apparently, the subpoena originally asked for a lot more than just a million addresses, as reported Thursday. From the motion the DOJ filed to force Google to comply with the subpoena:



“The subpoena asks Google to produce an electronic file containing ‘[a]ll URL’s that rea available to be located through a query on your company’s search engine as of July 31 2005.”

and

“all queries that have been entered on your company’ search engine between June 1, 2005 and July 31, 2005.”

HELLO. You think Google is going to give that over? Me no think so.



This is why Google originally fought the order. The DOJ then narrowed its request to a random sample of one million URLs and agreed to not ask for personally identifying info on the search queries, but it still wants all search queries for a one week period. No way in hell Google would give that up, given the company’s penchant for secrecy. Sure, the DOJ might guarantee that the data would not enter the public record, but, once in the DOJ’s hands, it’s out of Google’s control.

So how to fight it? Well, standing up to the DOJ and getting major praise for doing so is a very smart strategy, in my book. As much as I’d love to believe Google is fighting this for heroic reasons, I’d wager that the data has more to do with it.

Also, just a note, but it’s interesting to note that Google now has its very own DOJ case, just like Microsoft did.

(Gary has a thorough overview of the docs in the case here).

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25 thoughts on “What's the Big Deal?

  1. Peter says:

    http://www.mises.org/story/1983 Interesting story about “Target Google” from the Von Mises Institute…….

  2. Teddie says:

    Darn. I hadn’t actually thought of it from that prespective – it makes so much sense.

    I’m not a US citizen so go forgive me if my understanding of your legal system isn’t great – surely under the Patriot Act the very concept of Google protecting our information is completely flawed becuase the Government has open access to it all anyway?

  3. Erik says:

    “…produce an electronic file containing ‘[a]ll URL’s that are available to be located through a query on your company’s search engine…”

    AN electronic file? One? Too funny. Maybe some of you db experts can help me with this. What is the projected size of a file containing (conservatively) 12 billion URLs, with an average length of, say, 50 characters? Do they want page titles and desrcriptive snippets too?

  4. Ledio Ago says:

    Have you seen this: http://tinyurl.com/clpqn

    and here it goes…

  5. Teddie says:

    Erik, I reckon you’re probably close on target. While we’re all guessing how many beans are in the Google jar, I’ll hazard they have a usuable index of somewhere around: 11,230,000,000

    But goodness knows what % of that might be supplemental or duplicates.

  6. Kurt says:

    If we want to protect this data, the key is to mess it up. There is no way to keep the data out of the wrong people’s hands, so the best thing to do is add enough noise to reduce its value. One idea would be to build a Firefox plug-in that submitted random ilicit (porn, national security, etc.) search requests in the background to the major search engines in the background, without bothering to display the results. After a while the data would be pretty noisy, and much less interesting to the DOJ and other busy bodies.

  7. EnergyGuru says:

    I can understand why Google wants the secrecy, but no matter how skeptical you are of the government you gotta be for helping limit child porn. That’s a good cause. Maybe it establishes a bad precedent, but I’m not one of those people who thinks the government is out to get us. Personally I think handing over information on URL’s without personal identification would be promoting good and not “doing evil”

  8. BigMediaBlog says:

    The law in question isn’t about child porn, it’s about how best to prevent children from being exposed to otherwise legal porn.

    And, “it’s for the children” is a tried and true way to get something with wide-ranging negative effects. For a recent example, see Rob Reiner’s attempts in California.

    And, someone should start making a list of all the interesting bits of info the government officials could mine from all those searches.

  9. The subpoena asks Google to produce an electronic file containing ‘[a]ll URL’s that rea available to be located through a query on your company’s search engine as of July 31 2005.”

    and

    “all queries that have been entered on your company’ search engine between June 1, 2005 and July 31, 2005.”

    _________________

    This shows that the Att Gen’l Office Really does not Know Specifically what it wants, they are just attempting to get whatever they can get access to, in the hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel by grasping at straws…

    Of course with Murphey’s Law – some of this (Google) information will be leaked – either to the press – or to a good friend – who will tell another, and so and on……

    Also, what is so bizzare is Google has to PAY for this research and for compiling it, it is easy to just REQUEST something, but if it was coming out of the Attorney General’s PERSONAL pockets, he would surely be more discriminating!

    :LOL:
    Wonder if Yahoo or MSN or AOL will get to take the costs of Researching and Compiling this off their Taxes???

  10. Sid Steward says:

    Well, standing up to the DOJ and getting major praise for doing so is a very smart strategy, in my book.

    PR-wise, I’d say the winner is Microsoft since this flap ends up alienating users from web applications.

    Even if Google wins this round, it gives users pause when they realize they don’t have control over their data. They are more likely to ask: ‘Should I use a web mail service if the government (or some other interested organization) can-possibly/will-eventually/does-already mine my data?’

    It hurts all efforts to move users to web applications.

  11. Joe Hunkins says:

    Although I share people’s concern with how Govts can take legitimate concerns and wind up abusing the access to info, this debate needs to be broader – why haven’t people been worried about abuse of the data by Google, MSN, Yahoo, etc?

    But the whole thing confuses me at another level. Couldn’t the Gov get a very accurate sampling of all the data in question here by simply capturing all web traffic through a few key routing points? The NSA is almost certainly doing that now for terror related queries.

    This leads me to wonder if this is not about users at all – perhaps the Gov is building a case that the *search engine* has an obligation to prohibit access/not cache porn/etc.

  12. MikeM says:

    “This leads me to wonder if this is not about users at all – perhaps the Gov is building a case that the *search engine* has an obligation to prohibit access/not cache porn/etc.”

    That is how I see it. Attempting to make the SEs more responsible for how it delivers porn to anyone anywhere at anytime. Apparently they are not doing a suitable job in the government’s eyes. Hard to disagree.

  13. Sid Steward says:

    This leads me to wonder if this is not about users at all – perhaps the Gov is building a case that the *search engine* has an obligation to prohibit access/not cache porn/etc.

    Wow- just like how China currently makes SEs responsible for, um, tailoring search results. Next will we see China v. Google? Sorry, bad joke.

  14. Joe Hunkins says:

    Sid brings up the key question – how much privacy protection is too much? Many are arguing, speciously, that users should enjoy total privacy protection.

    Does Google have an obligation to turn over info they uncover that clearly indicates a plot to destroy New York? Of course they do – probably even without getting a subpoena.

    The USS No-Privacy sailed years ago and we have at best only a modest level of protection. ISPs, Google, NSA, and many related entities are watching.

    I’m more concerned with how this is used and establishing legal protections from unreasonable USE of my data rather than worrying about impossible restrictions on COLLECTION of my data.

  15. Eric Baillargeon says:

    It’s time to see opinions like thoses one ! I was abit shock yesterday morning by the indifference of the first posts of the news.

    The thing who surprising me the most today is the response of the “right side” of the Wallstreet folks ! If they play the “Arthur Anderson” game again, they will have another backlash soon !

  16. Don Dodge says:

    The expressed purpose of the government’s request was to estimate how much pornography shows up in the searches that children might do. How they could determine which searches were done by children and which searches were done by adults is a mystery. There are serious privacy and legal issues with this request. But in the digital age there is very little privacy.

    Bill Gates and other executives at Microsoft have had all of their email captured by legal teams for various law suits at one time or another. Bill Gates once said “We live the observed life”. Translation…assume that everything you say, write, or do will be reviewed by a team of lawyers…with the worst of intentions.

    I wrote a blog on the subject of privacy, the limits of presidential power, and how judge Alito’s supreme court nomination might effect decisions on this subject. You can read the whole thing here http://dondodge.typepad.com/the_next_big_thing/2006/01/living_the_obse.html

  17. Sam Sethi says:

    The tail that wags the dog.
    Microsoft were always going to comply. Ever since the DOJ (tail)changed Microsoft from being important to impotent, Microsoft (Dog) has never had the same bark or bite in the market. Like a trained government puppy they were always going to rollover because they fear the DOJ coming back.

    This whole FBI question goes to the heart of the issues raised by Steve Gilmore concerning digital identity and “attention clickstreams”.

    Who’s data is it anyway? Mine or theirs? Google has made a lot of money from selling MY clickstream to advertisiers in exchange for a free search engine which is why MSN is so keen to get into the search advertising game now.

    But has anyone here ever really read the license agreement and privacy policy for Google, Yahoo or MSN? Can I request that they delete my history file at any time? (clickstream from their records)NO!

    To make matters worse has anyone here ever downloaded their respective desktop search tools? Again the clickstream data from the desktop search is certainly upload by Google and stated clearly in their policy agreement which I am sure you all read before installing the application.

    I am now checking the policies for MSN and Yahoo but expect to find the same (lack of) privacy policy.

    What next – will the FBI ask Amazon what books I have bought just in case I bought something they deem is not suitable reading or will they ask Ebay what items I wanted to buy or sell or ask Expedia what holiday destinations I wanted to look at etc etc.

    So the next time we complain that the Chinese government violates its citizens rights by resticting their internet access, remember this as the day we lost our privacy. Or did that happen in 1984?

  18. sandy says:

    John,

    You are a super smart guy but if you think this looks good to Joe and Jane Sixpack, you are sorely mistaken. Sometimes, folks in SF think everybody should be allowed to do anything no matter what.

    Most people in the world believe Child Porn should be stopped and this is the wrong issue to start the standard (and Very Tired) slippery slope arguments. Google associating its corporate brand with protection of Child Porn…What a –potentially- Huge Mistake.

    Good Luck Googlers! You have officially entered the Government Sites, and no one in America is interested in protecting a bunch of Cocksure Billionaires.

    Believe Dat!

    Keep up the good work, John!

  19. Stewart says:

    And I thought Jacque Chirac was mad to suggest that we needed a European search engine last week, it doesn’t seem so mad anymore…

  20. Sid Steward says:

    Sid brings up the key question – how much privacy protection is too much?

    Not sure how I brought that up, but feel free to run with it. For the record, I believe very strongly in personal privacy. Almost nutty about it.

  21. Joe Hunkins says:

    Sid: ….I believe very strongly in personal privacy. Almost nutty about it…

    Many are nutty about it and that’s the challenge. No sane person argues for ZERO censorship of all expression. Thus it’s where, not if, we draw the line on the slippery censorship slope.

    Sandy’s speaking for the majority of OFFline Americans, and regardless of one’s view about this particular circumstance we are not going to get much support from mainstream America in this round of the privacy battle.

  22. sandy says:

    Joe H: I am not speaking for ANYone. I am just giving a POV that I may or may not agree with. Kind of a Devil’s Advocate but less sophisticated. I live in SV and am obviously ONline.

    I feel it is hilarious and you may agree (as I just read on your blog) that all these self rightoues ‘technocrats’ SEE ABOVE COMMENTS feel soooo strongly about the government (which really is only interested –at this point– in bombs and porn) knowing the content of their searching yet LOVES the idea of a megalomaniacal corporation having the same data. BELLY LAUGH, ROTFLMA hilarious.

    Said corp TRULY wants to know EVERYTHING about you and NOT because they care or are your friend.

    WAKE UP SV LEMMINGS!, Its not the government you should be worried about:-)

    Peace Out! S

  23. Rich says:

    Sandy’s comments are unfortunately correct. It’s always easy to find people who are comfortable with government intrusion, since they assume that it won’t impact them. For the same reason, you had significant numbers of people who supported government supported racism in the 50′s and 60′s, since these people didn’t think that they would be impacted. It takes a while for people to understand that “it doesn’t impact me” doesn’t equal “right.”

  24. Michiel says:

    Google needs its own country.

  25. Max Worton says:

    A technical view from an Search engine optimization company

    n the Google v. DOJ case, I cerainly agree its it’s aslippery slope. and the subpoena, cerainly hints there’s something else at stake. Great article.

    http://www.webefforts.co.uk