How Far Should Google Go To Protect User Privacy In Lawsuits?

We’ve already discussed the ridiculous circumstances under which a model, Liskula Cohen, ended up getting a judge to order Google to reveal an anonymous blogger who Cohen felt defamed her by calling her a “skank,” among other things. That no longer anonymous blogger, Rosemary Port, is now planning to sue Google, though it seems her chances of winning are slim to none. Still, the whole thing did raise questions about the level to which Google should go to protect the anonymity of people who use its services.

This issue is getting more attention, as Google has apparently alerted some anonymous Caribbean journalists that it may hand over their information due to a defamation lawsuit filed against the journalists, concerning their investigations into corruption in the famed vacation resort Turks & Caicos Islands. One of the people accused of being involved in the corruption filed the lawsuit, and Google sent the site a letter, saying:

To comply with the law, unless you provide us with a copy of a motion to
quash the subpoena (or other formal objection filed in court) via email at
[email protected] by 5pm Pacific Time on September 16, 2009, Google
will assume you do not have an objection to production of the requested
information and may provide responsive documents on this date.

Some are making a big “First Amendment” deal out of this, but it’s not clear that’s such a huge deal. Google, as a private company, can choose to reveal that information, and appears to be properly notifying the people in question of the legal situation and allowing them to respond. But, of course, some insist that Google should stand up for the privacy rights of its users, and there’s an argument to be made there. How far should Google be expected to go to defend the privacy of its users in the face of a court order or subpoena? Given Google’s reputation as being user friendly, many would expect it to go quite far, but is that reasonable? Is there a balance between obeying court orders and subpoenas and fighting for its users’ rights? Or should Google always default to defending its users’ rights as far as possible?

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