Users of Google’s newly released Internet browser, Chrome, were shocked to find out that, by downloading and using the programme, they had agreed to give up copyright to their own files. The browser’s End User Licence Agreement contained a clause giving the company a “perpetual, irrevocable” licence to “reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any content” submitted or displayed through its browser, as well as “sharing” the user’s information with other organisations.
For many, even those who would normally share their knowledge for free, this would not only include their personal details, but also things like programming code, which could then be reproduced by corporations for commercial purposes.
The company has since been forced to modify its licence after a flood of complaints, claiming it was an “accident” resulting from hastily pasting its “standard terms.” The clause now states that users “retain copyright and any other rights” but does not say whether Google would not still store this information and share it with a third party.
The multi-million project is Google’s latest shot in its battle for online domination. With over 200 million searches per day, Google has almost become synonymous with Internet searching. Its search engine enjoys a 75 percent monopoly for all external referrals to most websites, meaning webmasters cannot avoid seeking Google’s ‘blessing’ if they wish to increase traffic to their site. 99 percent of the company’s revenue (nearly $16.5bn in 2007) comes from ‘targetted advertising’.
This is not the first time concerns around privacy have arisen in relation to Google’s activities, which have been seen to both infringe consumer protection and enable government surveillance. Google’s toolbar on other browsers, such as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, has been described as a “spyware”; and this applies to many of its other products as well: Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube etc. As one commentator put it, “Google already knows more about you than the National Security Agency ever will. And don’t assume for a minute it keeps it secret.”
In 2003, Google was nominated by Google Watch for a ‘Big Brother award’ based on nine points related to privacy, including recording everything it can about users (immortal cookies, IP address, search terms etc.) and retaining this data indefinitely. Google’s approach to page ranking has also been described as ‘anti-democratic’ as already powerful pages are mathematically granted extra power to anoint other pages as powerful.
Google insists it uses users’ data only to provide targeted advertising. But critics argue that information seldom remains limited to the purpose for which it was collected. Having recently retained a lobbying firm in Washington, Google is among many tech companies opposed to a draft legislation in the US which seeks to prevent companies hoarding search queries.
On its website, Google asserts it “does comply with valid legal process, such as search warrants, court orders, or subpoenas seeking personal information.” The website, however, also states that, as a matter of policy, the company “does not publicly discuss the nature, number or specifics of law enforcement requests.”