Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Google calls censorship number one trade barrier; threatens to shut down German Gmail

This is interesting. Apparently Google is threatening to shut down their German Gmail service because of German laws that require identity verification. The Economics of Content - Google Threatens To Shut German Google Mail; Blames Germany’s Own Privacy Laws

Google Threatens To Shut German Google Mail; Blames Germany’s Own Privacy Laws

By Robert Andrews - Mon 25 Jun 2007 03:52 AM PST

Google’s global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer has warned the company may have to close its Google Mail service in Germany - because new government legislation does not afford citizens freedom of speech. It’s audacious - Google this month agreed to curtail the length of time it keeps users’ search records after concerns from an EU data protection watchdog that last week announced it would expand its inquiry. Schooled partly in Munich, Fleischer spoke out on proposed justice department laws, designed to combat terrorism, that would compel services to identify users by matching data to names (see Wirtschafts Woche). But his comment appears to drive a wedge between the EU and one of its key member states: ”Many users around the globe make use of this anonymity to defend themselves from spam, or government repression of free speech ... If the web community won’t trust us with handling their data with great care, we’ll go down in no time.”

The statement makes Google look like it’s now standing up for users’ privacy - aside from the EU inquiry, the company was earlier savaged this month in a Privacy International report on data protection. Gmail has already had mixed fortunes in Germany - a German postal and email service operator who registered the trademark locally and across much of Europe in 2003 has repeatedly refused to grant Google the rights, prompting the search giant to rename it “Google Mail” as it has done in the UK. Google also let Germany out o last week’s YouTube localized launches; Hollywood Reporter attributed it to a failure to strike a copyright deal with the country’s GEMA authors’ rights society.

Update: Google is now countering web censorship threats using the language of commerce, by asking the U.S. to regard such limits as international trade barriers, AP reports. Andrew McLaughlin, Google’s director of public policy and government affairs: “It’s fair to say that censorship is the No. 1 barrier to trade that we face.” AP: “McLaughlin has met with officials from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office several times this year to discuss the issue.” USTR spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel: “If censorship regimes create barriers to trade in violation of international trade rules, the USTR would get involved.” So it’s easier to protect against censorship on economic grounds than it is on freedom of speech?

No comments: