Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ciao Google

The New York Times has published an interesting opinion piece about how "In Italian Google Case, American and European Ideas of Privacy Collide." Writer Adam Liptak argues that cultural differences between the U.S. and the Continent exacerbate conflicts between privacy and free expression that are critical in evaluating the impact of technologies such as those produced by Google. Our countryman perceive privacy as a matter of "consumer protection" rather than "human dignity," according to one Google lawyer, and the transnational company devoted to personalization is trying to respond. News accounts explain that Google executives were actually convicted for failing to block dissemination of a video that shows an autistic minor being beaten and bullied on YouTube. Of course simulated bullying and testimonials from autistic victims, like the events shown on this official PSA, wouldn't be subject to the privacy regulations.

However, the historical arguments about the differences in Internet policies don't quite make sense. European sensibilities are attributed to sensitivity about Nazi and Iron Curtain forms of surveillance, but the even earlier Brandeis case in the United States are seemingly too late to be a significant causal factor.

Readers who read through to the end will be rewarded with a snippet from Virtualpolitik friend Siva Vaidhyanathan, who raises more interesting questions about how privacy is constituted both at home and on the street.

In some ways the Italian video represents the easy case. Google was merely a conduit for other people’s information, and that may well be enough to protect it in most of Europe.

The harder cases arise when Google is more active in gathering and disseminating information, as in its StreetView service, which provides ground-level panoramas gathered by cars with cameras on them. The program has generated legal challenges in Switzerland and Germany.

“Google is digitizing the world and expecting the world to conform to Google’s norms and conduct,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, who teaches media studies and law at the University of Virginia. “That’s a terribly naïve view of privacy and responsibility.”

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