A Win for The People

Google beat the DOJ’s insane request for data, giving a small amount of hope that there’s still some amount of sanity in the world. Yahoo, MSN, AOL: shame on you for going belly-up on this one.

Google takes heat from privacy advocates — rightfully so, many would say — but at least they don’t roll over and hand the Fed every little piece of data it wants. Russ Beattie gets this one very, very right: this sort of data is dangerous in the hands of people who think boobs on statues are somehow bad and that religion belongs in the science classroom.

Good work, Google. You’ve certainly done more to earn my business of late than your competitors have.

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5 responses to “A Win for The People”

  1. Christopher Smith
    Christopher Smith
    March 19, 2006 at 10:15 pm |

    Note that MSN and Yahoo didn’t cave, they just chose a different strategy. In the end, none of the three complied with the government’s requests. The difference was Google had to go through the expense of a legal proceeding to reach that point. It might be flashier, but I’m not sure it’s an indication of anything more than they are showing typical geek stuborness in the face of a stupid request.

    It kind of reminds me of the joke about the old bull and the young bull looking down at a field of cows…

  2. Corey
    March 19, 2006 at 11:31 pm |

    Did I miss the part where Yahoo didn’t puss out on this one? The last I read was the SEW report that said that Yahoo, AOL and MSN were all “hey, DOJ, whatever you want. We’re your pals!” while Google was all “not so much.” I’d be more than happy to retract if I’m wrong.

  3. Christopher Smith
    Christopher Smith
    March 19, 2006 at 11:46 pm |

    All that has been stated publicly is that Yahoo, AOL and MSN replied back that they couldn’t comply with the requests, but they did hand over some data. To specifically quote Yahoo: “We are rigorous defenders of our users’ privacy. We did not provide any personal information in response to the Department of Justice’s subpoena. In our opinion, this is not a privacy issue. We complied on a limited basis and did not provide any personally identifiable information.”

    AOL and MSN made similar statements. In a lot of ways, this is an issue of tactics. Everyone else figured out that if you give them something, but not what they asked for, the feds tend to give up and take what they have. Google on the other hand picked a fight, and got free PR in exchange for potentially having to risk turning over a lot more data if the courts so ruled. We don’t know exactly what the other 3 turned over, so it’s hard to know if Google won or lost that gamble, but it’s certainly possible that they ended up having to hand over more data than the other 3.

    Ultimately, I suspect the reason all of these companies didn’t comply fully had a lot more to do with hanging on to very valuable competitive data, rather than concerns about privacy.

  4. Corey
    March 20, 2006 at 7:14 am |

    That’s a pretty vague statement from Yahoo. As there wasn’t any personally-identifying information in the original request, why shouldn’t that be read as “yeah, we gave them exactly what they wanted?” Both Google and Yahoo have enough of a track record of doing absolutely the wrong thing — just look at China — that unless what they do is very concrete, I’m not going to give them any credit for doing The Right Thing.

  5. Christopher Smith
    Christopher Smith
    March 20, 2006 at 5:32 pm |

    I wouldn’t claim that either did The Right Thing. I’m just pointing out that neither of them (nor their competitors) complied with the subpeonas. Yahoo just figured out a way to stay out of court, which could actually result in better protection of their data. Sometimes taking a small hit and stepping away from the fight ends up minimizing casualties…

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