Thursday, April 28, 2011

Can Google Be Trusted with Our Books?

So asked Craig Morgan Teicher in his Publishers Weekly blog yesterday, noting what he called "a disturbing observation" made by yet another journalist writing for The Guardian in the UK. That observation, spurred by Google's recent decision to pull the plug on Google Video, wondered whether the search company's cold business calculus about online videos didn't mean it would do the same to the millions of books it's scanned and uploaded should Google Books flop, too.

As it happens Google appears to have reversed course on this decision, so for the time being those videos remain safe for viewing. But what's odd about this hand-wringing is that it overlooks that just about everything on the web is as vulnerable as those Google videos. Wikipedia, for instance, despite its status as a not-for-profit venture, is just as likely to go 404 should it be mismanaged and its contributions dry up. And what about those of us who rely on Gmail and, like me, have years of email correspondence archived in their accounts?

Which brings us to The Cloud.

It's a vogue term these days, especially with Amazon's latest attack on iTunes via its Cloud Player. The Cloud Player allows those of us who use Apple's music store but don't have an iPhone to play our ripped CDs and, uh, non-DRM downloaded music (meaning only the stuff you've bought from iTunes at the premium, non-copy-protected price) on an Android, BlackBerry, or Palm smartphone. Or from a notebook or desktop PC via a web player.

Then there's Amazon's Cloud Drive, which is basically your backup hard drive in the sky.

Whatever you call it, the Internet has slowly been storing (and occasionally losing or exposing) more and more of our data -- from credit card numbers to medical records to email addresses -- since the web became a consumer hit in the mid '90s. So wondering whether Google can be trusted with our books is a little like wondering whether Chase can be trusted with our credit cards or United Healthcare can be trusted with our medical records. Except wondering about Chase and United Healthcare is a tad more important.

After all, should Google hit the skids and shutter Google Books those millions of volumes will still be available ... they'll just be stuck in antediluvian libraries, where to read them you may have to (shudder) visit them and check them out.

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