Thursday, 25 February 2010

Your Google Needs You!

Google is recruiting. It needs in-house counsel, and lots of them. Fast! Just look at this selection of in-house legal jobs currently available at Mountain View, Google UK, and Google Zurich.

The reason for this recruitment drive? Well, not only does Google have the day-to-day legal demands of any international business its size (are there any others?), its also facing legal challenges left, right and centre. Here’s a quick run-down of some of the more high-profile ones:

1. Digital Books
Google is seeking to build the world’s biggest online library by digitising millions of out-of-print books. This move has come up against much criticism concerned with breach of copyright (resulting in many authors opting out of the proposed settlement), potential invasion of privacy (the project has the potential to make user’s personal data and online habits public) and unfair competition (is Google obtaining a monopoly on the world’s information?). The “fairness hearing”, as it is being referred to, had its day in court last week and Judge Chin has expressed his concerns but made clear that there will not be an immediate ruling.

2. Personal liability of 3 Google Execs in Italy
In Italy 3 Google executives have been convicted of invasion of privacy as a result of a short film being uploaded onto Google Video which showed a 17 year old boy with Down’s Syndrome being bullied by 4 other children. Although Google removed the video in less than 24 hours of receiving complaints after it had been uploaded, this was not enough for the Italian Court, whose position was that Google should never have allowed the video to reach the internet in the first place.

It’s a concerning precedent on two counts. Firstly, in terms of exposure to liability of executives working at content providers and potentially other platform or service providers. Secondly, in terms of the potential changes to process required for those content, platform and service providers to pre-screen content to minimise this new risk.

More on this story can be found on BBC, Google’s reaction and Peter Fleischer’s view (one of the Google executive’s in question) .

3. Potential EC Competition Investigation
The European commission has received 3 complaints (from price comparison site Foundem, French legal search engine, and Microsoft's Ciao) that Google’s online search and digital advertising activity is potentially anti-competitive. Copies of the complaints are not available but according to The Guardian The complaints centre on the way in which Google's search results are compiled and on the terms and conditions the company attaches to deals with advertisers.”

The EC has issued a statement advising that it has not opened a formal investigation but that it has asked Google to comment on the complaints. Google states it is “committed to competing fairly”, but with such a strong hold in the market-place and so much at stake, I suspect its in-house legal team will be pouring over the detail of the complaints and the company’s response with a fine tooth-comb to stave off a full investigation by the EC.

4. Buzz Off
The controversial social networking tool attaching to Google’s email brought with it a host of privacy concerns, Channel Webb documents them well. Google responded promptly to the criticisms and concerns, but was it too late? In the US, the Electronic Privacy Information Centre has urged the Federal Trade Commission to open an investigation into Buzz with a detailed complaint which seeks to:

• Compel Google to make Google Buzz a fully opt-in service for Gmail users
• Compel Google to cease using Gmail users’ private address book contacts to compile social networking lists
• Compel Google to give Google Buzz users more control over their information, by allowing users to accept or reject followers from the outset
• Provide such other relief as the Commission finds necessary and appropriate

5. Streetview
After successfully fighting off Mr & Mrs Boring who issued a federal claim against Google in relation to Streetview invading their privacy (see Eric Goldman’s summary) in the US, the Google lawyer assigned to Streetview is now having to fight a battle in Europe. Strong objections by the German government have been voiced by Germany’s Consumer Protection Minister (comments here) who is looking for Google to potentially obtain the consent of each and every person photographed on Stretview before uploading their image or other identifying locational data onto the service.

6. Alleged Search Patent Infringement
Hot off the press this morning, we hear that Xerox is alleging that Google’s search algorithms allegedly infringe its patents. Yahoo is also on the receiving end of the allegation and breaks the news here.

7. Adwords
And we haven’t even started on the long list of Adwords lawsuits lining up. Expertly summarised on Eric Goldman’s blog.

And that’s only the legal news in the public domain. Interesting times for GOOG’s in-house counsel.

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