In Google we trust?

Dave Winer today points to Scott Rosenberg's excellent take on Google's new library venture. Scott concludes:

The public has a big interest in making sure that no one business has a chokehold on the flow of human knowledge. As long as Google's amazing project puts more knowledge in more hands and heads, who could object? But in this area, taking the long view is not just smart -- it's ethically essential. So as details of Google's project emerge, it will be important not just to rely on Google's assurances but to keep an eye out for public guarantees of access, freedom of expression and limits to censorship. [Scott Rosenberg]
I agree. That's one of the reasons, by the way, that the evolving relationship between electronic texts and physical books fascinates me so deeply. For the generation now coming of age, Google defines a sort of continental shelf. Whatever is on that shelf is considered accessible. Whatever isn't fades into the murky unfathomable depths. But when we can beam the halogen light into those depths and search them, we'll be reminded that -- whatever online access can or cannot be offered now, and however long it takes to make complex and sensitive adjustments to the copyright system -- the physical books exist, and are available for our use.

In the long run, of course, there must be full electronic access. How far should we trust Google to be a provider of that access? Dave wrote:

Everyone says that Google is trustworthy at least for now. I've heard it said on The Gillmor Gang episode about storing our data on the net. Google is storing our data, and they guess it's all right because they aren't evil. [Scripting News]
That didn't jibe with my recollection of the show, so I went back and revisited it. Thanks to the magic of MP3 sound bites, I can point you to a couple of two-minute clips in which I raise concerns and doubts: clip one, clip two. I've also mashed these together as a single MP3 that I'll include as an enclosure in my RSS feed.

Bottom line: I think that stewardship of so much of our private as well as public information requires a lot more transparency than Google currently practices. For example, on the day that MSN Search was announced I pointed to a funny but tasteless prank that Google News played on Microsoft. Are we really supposed to believe that an algorithm chose that unflattering photo of Bill Gates? Of course it didn't. But how can we know for sure?

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