Google, DOJ Head to Court

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and lawyers for Internet search giant Google will face off in federal court today, with the DOJ trying to force Google to open up its search records as part of an ongoing federal investigation. The DOJ argues that the records it wants will not violate anyone's privacy, as Google has asserted, because the information doesn't identify any individuals.

In August 2005, the DOJ requested this information from Google and several of its rivals, including AOL (part of Time Warner), Microsoft/MSN, and Yahoo!. All but Google complied. In a late 2005 statement, Google said that the submission of those records would violate users' privacy and damage the trust it shares with its customers. Google is also concerned that the records could expose trade secrets that might reveal to competitors how its search engine service works internally.

You might wonder how Google makes its decisions to fight some cases and not others. The DOJ is attempting to measure the effectiveness of the Child Online Protection Act, a law that shields children from explicitly sexual material on the Internet. So although Google had no problem censoring its search engine in order to remain in the crucial Chinese market, it's refused to help US law enforcement officials fight sexual predators.

Obviously, the issues are a little more complex than this. But I find Google's decision to fight this request a bit bizarre, especially when it had no problem bowing to China, an egregious human rights violator.

New French Law Might Force Apple to Open iTunes

You just gotta love the French. A newly proposed French law would require Apple Computer to open its iTunes Music Store to MP3 players that compete with Apple's iPod, breaking the near-monopolistic bundling of the two products for the first time. The law would make it legal for consumers to use software to convert digital media files into any format.

The proposed law, which flies in the face of the somewhat dubious Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the United States and a similar existing French law, would of course affect other online music services as well. But it's considered a huge problem for Apple specifically because that company has so successfully tied its dominant music service to its dominant MP3 player, the iPod.

The new law "will force some proprietary systems to be opened up," Christian Vanneste, a senior French parliamentarian, told Reuters earlier this week. "You have to be able to download content and play it on any device."

Apple could, of course, decide to simply close down the French version of its iTunes Music Store. Doing so would exclude millions of French consumers from Apple's service.

Critics of the proposed law, primarily music-industry executives and other special-interest groups, note that it could allow users to copy music into unprotected formats that could be freely and illegally distributed to others. However, proponents of the law say it would fight piracy and encourage the development of competing online music services.