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Google’s Alan Davidson on Areas of Special Concern


Alan Davidson, Washington Policy Counsel and head of Google’s new Washington DC government affairs office, made several interesting remarks in his panel statement. Among them: He identified the following two areas that are of special concern to search engine providers:

(1) Conceptual shift in speech regulation

  • Old approach (offline media): focused on publishers, readers
  • New & emerging generation of speech regulation: focus on deliverers – intermediaries are supposed to police the networks. Examples where this approach is currently up for discussion in D.C.: access to pharmaceutical products, blocking of gaming websites
  • Assessment: It’s not a good idea to target intermediaries: Due process, procedural problem: intermediary, e.g., can’t tell whether or not a particular site featuring copyrighted content is a fair use or not; by going after the intermediary you take the publisher out of equation, can’t go to courts to argue the case
  • Misguided, because search engines are only in the business of indexing existing content; they’re not editors (can’t be, given the scale.)

(2) Government access to information

  • Increasing pressures to provide personalized information (search history, etc.) to third parties
  • Best privacy policy doesn’t help if government wants information for national security reasons; standards really low; plus: search engines not allowed to inform users that info has been passed on to third parties.

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