Google’s pirate side

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The recent revelation that Google is under criminal investigation by the Department of Justice for promoting “rogue pharmacy” sales after repeatedly being warned that it was illegal is unfortunately consistent with Google’s pirate escapades in other areas.

Google has a disgraceful record of flouting authority and taking what does not belong to it. Just as pirates view the open seas as a place where they can do as they please, Google sees the Internet as an open sea where it can make the rules and decide the fate of others’ information without having to answer to landed authorities.

Google’s presumptuous mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” is the Internet pirate’s creed. Google believes it’s entitled to take and profit from any information it finds without permission or payment, regardless of whether that information is private property, private information, or government secrets. Examples of how the Google buccaneers flout authority, property rights, and the rule of law are simply too numerous to dismiss as unintentional.

Responding last month to a proposed bipartisan Senate “Protect IP” bill backed by law enforcement agencies that would make it illegal to link to, or facilitate commerce with, rogue web-domains trafficking in illegal information, goods or services, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt showed only defiance, threatening that if legislation was “passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president of the United States, and we disagree with it, we would still fight it.”

In January, when Julian Assange’s rogue site WikiLeaks illegally released thousands of stolen cables filled with national security secrets, confidential law enforcement intelligence, private information and private property, responsible Internet companies like PayPal and Amazon cooperated with authorities to minimize the damage and shut down payment and hosting services provided to WikiLeaks. The media also showed restraint by reporting only snippets of information while protecting most secret, private and sensitive information. In stark and irresponsible contrast, Google acted to increase the damage. Google indexed all of WikiLeaks’ stolen cables in its search engine and made them universally accessible and useful to the world’s bad actors. When asked about the appropriateness of aiding Assange’s acts of piracy, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said: “Has Google looked at the appropriateness of indexing WikiLeaks? The answer is yes, and we decided to continue because it’s legal.”

In possibly the biggest case of unauthorized collections of private information in history, Google’s Street View service raised the ire of law enforcement authorities around the world by eavesdropping on tens of millions of homes’ WiFi communications without permission. Google’s privacy attitude is best summed up by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s infamous remark: “If you have something you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

In what may be the largest copyright infringement scheme of all time, Google Books, Google continues to copy millions of books without the permission of the copyright owners — despite being sued by the largest author and publisher associations, and despite being opposed by the Department of Justice, the Register of Copyrights, and a Federal District Judge. Why would Google do this? A top Google lawyer confirms Google’s pirate mentality in admitting: “Google’s leadership does not care terribly much about precedent or law” as related in Steven Levy’s book, In The Plex.

Google’s mass book piracy turned out to be just the warm-up for mass video piracy. When confronted with the strategic and moral choice of continuing Google Video’s law-abiding practice of checking for copyrights before uploading videos from users or buying YouTube, the world’s leading video piracy site in 2006, Google embraced the video piracy model, paying $1.65 billion for YouTube despite its negligible revenues and obvious copyright infringement liabilities. Court documents revealed that when Google considered buying YouTube, Google product manager Ethan Anderson warned the firm’s executives: “I can’t believe you’re recommending buying YouTube…. They’re 80% illegal pirated content.” Around the same time, Google executive David Eun called YouTube a “video Grokster” — a telling statement given that the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 against Grokster for mass copyright piracy just the year before.

Google’s video piracy is not limited to YouTube. The Wall Street Journal reported that Google AdWords staff supplied serial copyright-infringer EasyDownloadCenter.com with obvious piracy-facilitating search keywords such as “bootleg movie download” and “pirated.”

Google’s accrual of $500 million to settle the DOJ criminal probe into the company’s promotion of illegal pharmacy sales would make it the third-largest criminal fine in history. While a criminal probe may appear out of place for a business with a “Don’t Be Evil” credo, a close examination of Google’s behavior over time shows such behavior is disturbingly in character with Google’s shadowy pirate side. Law-abiding and property-respecting companies simply do not accumulate this kind of rap sheet. It is time for law enforcement to stop Google from aiding and abetting piracy.

Scott Cleland is author of the new book: Search & Destroy Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc. Visit www.SearchAndDestroyBook.com.

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