British Columbia leading on open data and open government

Maybe it's the clean ocean air, maybe it's the vast mountains, but there's an open government revolution afoot in British Columbia.

In May the City of Vancouver passed a motion to open its data to the public. Inspired by Washington D.C.'s open data project, the city hopes to promote civic engagement, improve decision-making, and deepen accountability.

Social media expert David Eaves has been one of the key proponents and advisers behind Vancouver's open data initiative. I recently saw David speak about his theory of the "long tail of public policy." He believes that while there's lots of expertise within government, there's also untapped expertise outside of government -- from you, me, your family, and your neighbors. This knowledge -- the long tail -- on any given public policy issue is greater than the collective knowledge within government. Policymakers therefore need to learn how to tap this know-how in order to make better decisions. Check out his presentation below:

Not to be outdone, the British Columbia provincial government has an office whose primary mandate is to improve citizen engagement and public deliberation using the collaborative tools on the Web.

While other provincial governments have banned Facebook at work, B.C. has recognized the power of social media. David Hume, Executive Director for Citizen Engagement at the B.C. Ministry of Citizen Services, has a great presentation on the inspiration for B.C.'s work in this area. Check it out:

Google D.C. Talk next week: Wired's Chris Anderson on the power of free

At our next Google D.C. Talk on Tuesday, July 7, Wired editor Chris Anderson will talk about the power of a price: $0.00.

In his new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Anderson makes the provocative case that in many instances businesses can profit more from giving things away than they can by charging for them.

But if the product is free, where's the revenue? And how do you compete when your competitors are giving away what you're trying to sell? We'll ask Chris those questions and more.

Google D.C. Talks presents
A Conversation with Chris Anderson,
Free: The Future of a Radical Price
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
10:00 AM - 11:30 AM ET
Google Washington Office
1101 New York Avenue, NW, Second Floor
Washington, D.C.
Click here to RSVP

Got a question for Chris, but can't wait to the event? Submit your question now through Google Moderator or vote on the questions that others submit -- and we'll ask the top-rated questions at the talk.

Google endorses Declaration of Health Data Rights

From its inception Google Health has been about giving patients control over their medical data. For starters, that means we help people access their health information, give them a safe and secure place to store it, and let them share it with others if they wish. Over time our goal is to help consumers play a larger role in their own healthcare by empowering them with the information they need to make better healthcare decisions.

As part of this effort, we're endorsing an industry-wide Declaration of Health Data Rights. Unveiled today at, the Declaration aligns with the principles behind Google Health: consumer empowerment, privacy protection, and data portability. We've joined a diverse group of stakeholders -- including doctors, researchers, technology companies, writers, entrepreneurs, health economists, and others -- that have come together to support this effort to promote greater patient access to personal health data.

While most of the rights outlined in the Declaration are already included in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), there are still practical challenges to acting on these rights. For example, getting access to your medical records today often requires that you fill out a form at your doctor's office, pay a $35 copying fee, and then wait a month or more to receive your records in the mail. Under the law, this is your data, and we believe you should have it the day you visit your doctor.

We hope the Declaration will help raise public awareness about the rights already protected under HIPAA and also help drive the public debate towards increasing patient access and control over their own health data. Strong health data rights will help patients collaborate with their doctors in order to get better care and avoid medical errors.

Our recommendations for increasing citizens' access to government information

Given the tremendous volume of information online -- more than 1 trillion unique URLs and counting -- the ability for users to search for and find relevant content is critical. This couldn't be more true for the tens of millions of pages of content stored on government websites. Unfortunately, many agencies make it difficult or impossible for search engines to index their sites and make information available to citizens who are searching for it.

In response to President Obama's call for ideas on how to open up the government to its citizens, Google put forward recommendations last Friday in which we point to two simple steps government webmasters can take to make sure that search engine queries lead users to the right websites and hopefully, the right answers.

First, agencies can adopt the Sitemaps protocol, which allow search engines to crawl websites more intelligently. Most search engines offer free Sitemap generator tools -- check out Google Sitemap Generator.

Second, agencies can review their robots.txt files. Many agencies currently block large portions of their websites from search engines with robots.txt files, sometimes unknowingly. By reviewing and selectively using these files, webmasters can easily open up large amounts of content to citizens. Free analysis tools like Google's robots.txt test can help webmasters identify which pages are accidentally being blocked.

The next stage in the campaign for open government will come when the Administration encourages agencies to publish their most popular, timely, and relevant data on their websites and Static, obscure, and dated information is not useful to citizens who want data relevant to their everyday lives, nor is it helpful to third parties who want to build tools that citizens can use to understand that data.

As it works towards its goal to bring greater transparency to government, we hope that the Administration continues to take the steps necessary to make government information more easily accessible to citizens on the web.

Online advertising and user choice

Two subcommitees of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a joint hearing this morning about online advertising. The focus of the hearing will be on industry practices and consumer expectations for advertising that's tailored to users' online activities, also commonly known as "behavioral advertising." Google Deputy General Counsel Nicole Wong will be testifying about our advertising products and our commitment to protecting the privacy of our users.

More specifically, Nicole will talk about interest-based advertising, which we launched in March in beta for our our AdSense partner sites and YouTube. Interest-based advertising uses information about the web pages people visit to make the online ads they see more relevant. Relevant advertising, in turn, has fueled the content, products and services available on the Internet today.

The most important point that Nicole will make is that consumers need and deserve greater transparency and choice when it comes to online behavioral advertising. Our launch of interest-based advertising includes innovative, consumer-friendly features that provide meaningful transparency and choice for our users — such as ads labeled 'Ads by Google,' a tool called the Ads Preferences Manager (which lets users view, add and remove the categories that are used to show them interest-based ads), and the choice to opt out of interest-based ads altogether.

You can read Nicole's complete testimony and you can watch a video about how interest-based advertising works on the Google Privacy Channel on YouTube:

UPDATE (6/19) Check out the video of Nicole's oral testimony below.

More footage from protests in Iran on YouTube

(Editor's Note: Last week we blogged about researchers who had been studying online behavior prior to Iran's presidential election. This entry, cross-posted from the YouTube Blog, outlines how Iranians are using YouTube as a platform for free expression in the wake of election day.)

Last Friday marked a long-anticipated Election Day in Iran to choose the next Iranian president. While the voting process itself ran smoothly, widespread violence has since broken out in protest of current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim to a decisive victory over challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Mousavi supporters, who believe Ahmadinejad rigged the election results, refuse to accept the verdict and have been openly protesting since Saturday.

Video clips that capture the chaos and rioting in the streets of Iran's capital, Tehran, have been streaming into YouTube for the past four days. Even though YouTube appears to be blocked in Iran -- the site is experiencing a small fraction of the traffic levels it normally receives from Iran (around 10%) -- we continue to see videos being uploaded to the site that document city streets crowded with angry demonstrators, violent clashes between protesters and state police, and visceral scenes of mass unrest.

In essence, YouTube has become a citizen-fueled news bureau of video reports filed straight from the streets of Tehran, unfiltered. Because the Iranian government is cracking down on local and international media coverage, these citizen-generated videos are providing an exclusive look at the developing violence. Here's a collection of some of those videos. (Please use your discretion before viewing, as some of them contain disturbing images.)

We've noticed some claims going around that YouTube has been engaging in acts of censorship and removing some of these videos from the site. Unless a video clearly violates our Community Guidelines, we will not take it down. In general, we do not allow graphic or gratuitous violence on YouTube. However, we make exceptions for videos that have educational, documentary, or scientific value. The limitations being placed on mainstream media reporting from within Iran make it even more important that citizens in Iran be able to use YouTube to capture their experiences for the world to see. Given the critical role these videos are playing in reporting this story to the world, we are doing our best to leave as many of them up as we can. YouTube is, at its core, a global forum for free expression.

Take note that if you see a video that is unavailable on the site, it may be because the user decided to remove the video him or herself.

We're following what's happening in Iran on the Citizentube blog (, so stay tuned for the latest.

Opening access to books means opportunities for everyone -- including Amazon

At a Wired conference yesterday, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, made some fairly critical comments about Google Books that have, predictably, created press attention. We can't presume to understand the full nature of Amazon's statements, but we believe they go to the heart of our continuing efforts to make books more available and were likely motivated by recent news about Google Books.

Last month at the BEA conference in New York, we discussed our plans to expand Google Books for our publishing partners. By the end of this year, we hope to give publishers, as well as authors, the ability to sell online access to their works so that people can find, purchase and read books on the devices they choose, including computers, mobile phones, laptops, netbooks, or e-readers from multiple vendors. This service will also be designed to allow multiple retail partners to distribute these books, similar to the way book sales work in the physical market.

We believe more choice is good. That's exactly why our vision for Google Books is to create an open platform that, among other things, allows any bookstore, library, publisher partner or individual website developer to provide their users with the ability to search across and preview books in a similar way to Amazon's Search Inside! feature.

Providing more choice is also why we entered into our settlement agreement last year with authors and publishers. The settlement will provide users with more access to books. We still strongly believe that copying for the sake of indexing is a fair use that is encouraged by existing copyright law precedents. Fair use is critical to the way web search and book search work and is already well established.

The settlement allows us to bring real benefits to users. It opens access to millions of books that are no longer published; it expands access for people with disabilities; and it compensates rightsholders for new uses. And, through the creation of the Registry, and a database of copyright claims information, the settlement makes it easier for others to find rightsholders and license their works. Other companies, including Amazon, and individuals can contact rightsholders directly or work through the Registry (if the rightsholder has authorized the Registry to do so) to license works for new uses. And for books whose rightsholders can't be found, we also support comprehensive orphan works legislation, as we've said in the past.

In the end, we believe more access is good for everyone, Google and Amazon alike. But most importantly, it's good for readers who simply want to find and enjoy books, and for authors and publishers who want to create and sell works.

HTTPS security for web applications

(Cross-posted from the Google Online Security Blog)

A group of privacy and security experts sent a letter today urging Google to strengthen its leadership role in web application security, and we wanted to offer some of our thoughts on the subject.

We've long advocated for — and demonstrateda focus on strong security in web applications. We run our own business on Google Apps, and we strive to provide a high level of security to our users. We currently let people access a number of our applications — including Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Calendar, among others — via HTTPS, a protocol that establishes a secure connection between your browser and our servers.

Let's take a closer look at how this works in the case of Gmail. We know that tens of millions of Gmail users rely on it to manage their lives every day, and we have offered HTTPS access as an option in Gmail from the day we launched.
If you choose to use HTTPS in Gmail, our systems are designed to maintain it throughout the email session — not just at login — so everything you do can be passed through a more secure connection. Last summer we made it even easier by letting Gmail users opt in to always use HTTPS every time they log in (no need to type or bookmark the "https").

Free, always-on HTTPS is pretty unusual in the email business, particularly for a free email service, but we see it as an another way to make the web safer and more useful. It's something we'd like to see all major webmail services provide.

In fact, we're currently looking into whether it would make sense to turn on HTTPS as the default for all Gmail users.

We know HTTPS is a good experience for many power users who've already turned it on as their default setting. And in this case, the additional cost of offering HTTPS isn't holding us back. But we want to more completely understand the impact on people's experience, analyze the data, and make sure there are no negative effects. Ideally we'd like this to be on by default for all connections, and we're investigating the trade-offs, since there are some downsides to HTTPS — in some cases it makes certain actions slower.

We're planning a trial in which we'll move small samples of different types of Gmail users to HTTPS to see what their experience is, and whether it affects the performance of their email. Does it load fast enough? Is it responsive enough? Are there particular regions, or networks, or computer setups that do particularly poorly on HTTPS?

Unless there are negative effects on the user experience or it's otherwise impractical, we intend to turn on HTTPS by default more broadly, hopefully for all Gmail users. We're also considering how to make this work best for other apps including Google Docs and Google Calendar (we offer free HTTPS for those apps as well).

Stay tuned, but we wanted to share our thinking on this, and to let you know we're always looking at ways to make the web more secure and more useful.

Update @ 1:00pm: We've had some more time to go through the report. There's a factual inaccuracy we wanted to point out: a cookie from Docs or Calendar doesn't give access to a Gmail session. The master authentication cookie is always sent over HTTPS — whether or not the user specified HTTPS-only for their Gmail account. But we can all agree on the benefits of HTTPS, and we're glad that the report recognizes our leadership role in this area. As the report itself points out, "Users of Microsoft Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Facebook and MySpace are also vulnerable to [data theft and account hijacking]. Worst of all — these firms do not offer their customers any form of protection. Google at least offers its tech savvy customers a strong degree of protection from snooping attacks." We take security very seriously, and we're proud of our record of providing security for free web apps.

Street View: Exploring Europe's streets with new privacy safeguards

(Cross-posted from the European Public Policy Blog)

In 2007 we began to look at bringing the highly innovative and very popular Street View to Europe, and I highlighted the new technological challenges this would present given different privacy laws and cultural norms. We pre-empted many of the different requirements and concerns and proactively introduced privacy enhancing technologies, namely industry-leading face and license plate blurring, and made it easy to flag inappropriate images for removal. We began a dialogue with the Article 29 Working Party, which brings together representatives from all 27 European Data Protection Authorities. In turn, they have asked us to make a few additional modifications to address local specificities to ensure Street View better aligns to local interpretations of privacy requirements across the whole of Europe.

First, they have asked us to continue to provide advance notice to the public about the project before we start driving in a new country. We already got a head start on this request earlier this year, when we worked closely with the press to announce details of when and where we would be driving in new countries such as Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, and Switzerland. As you can probably imagine, it can be tricky at times to say exactly where our cars will be and when; we're affected by lots of things outside our control such as the weather and lighting conditions, we also rely on the local knowledge of our drivers to decide which places it is best to drive when, taking into account traffic conditions and other local factors. Nonetheless, we are committed to working within the Article 29 Working Party's guidelines on this issue.

Second, the Article 29 Working Party has asked that we set a time limit on how long we keep the unblurred copies of panoramas from Street View, in a way that appropriately balances the use of this data for legitimate purposes with the need to deal with any potential concerns from individuals who might feature incidentally on the Street View imagery. To explain the issue here, although the images you see on Street View have faces and car license plates blurred out, we have to collect an original 'unblurred' copy of that image first. We then apply our highly sophisticated blurring technology and we make sure that only the blurred copy is ever made public.

The Article 29 Working Party have, however, asked us to take some additional steps to ensure that we don't keep the original 'unblurred' copy for longer than we need to. This is a challenge, but again one we're committed to meeting not just in Europe but globally. One of the technical challenges at stake with Street View--or any service that uses image detector software --is that the software sometimes makes mistakes, labeling part of the image as containing a face or a license plate when in fact it doesn't. While we like to think we've gotten pretty good at this stuff, we still have lots of these 'false positives'.

Some of these can be pretty funny like the blurred horse shown above, but this also affects the quality of Google Maps and so in turn affects our users - for example, it'd be pretty annoying if you couldn't find the phone number of that little deli across town where you think you might have left your purse, because our software mistook the phone number for a license plate. That's why we're constantly working on ways to improve our technology, and we are constantly training it to detect more of the relevant stuff, while reducing the number of 'false positives' it creates. To do this, though, we need access to the original unblurred copies of the images. Nevertheless, we've communicated to the Article 29 Working Party that we will meet their request that long term we only keep the blurred copy of Street View panoramas, and we will work with them and our engineers to determine the shortest retention period that also allows for legitimate use under EU laws.

It's important for companies operating services across Europe to be able to follow harmonised data protection guidance, and we're grateful to the Article 29 Working Party for their advice and collaboration on Street View. It is this coordinated approach that will best enable the expansion of consumer-facing services and innovative technology across the region. Street View has proven to be extremely popular in the countries in which it has launched and with these additional privacy safeguards we plan to bring it to even more countries in the European Union, allowing people to explore their home towns, tourist attractions or cities on the other side of the world. We are already receiving many requests to come drive new areas so that imagery can be used to showcase a town, promote tourism and improve travel planning and we are of course always happy to consider these. Read about our latest addition to Street View - tourists and Mickey Mouse fans can now virtually explore the Disneyland parks in Paris.

Searching for clues on Iran's presidential election

Iranians head to the polls tomorrow to vote in their 10th post-revolution presidential election, and some observers are studying online behavior for clues on how to predict a contest that looks too close to call.

In an article in Foreign Policy, Scott Hartley asks, "Who's winning Iran's Google war?" With more than one third of Iranians now online, search data offers unique insight into what voters might be thinking. Armed with English and Farsi results from Google Insights for Search, Hartley infers that challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi's appeal is highest among urban elites in Tehran and Shiraz, while incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dominates the less-cosmopolitan cities of Qom, Karaj, and Mashhad. Hartley also points to a fascinating map of the Persian blogosphere developed by Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, which outlines the diversity of political viewpoints across 400,000 blogs.

How will it ultimately play out? We'll have to wait and see. But as Internet penetration increases around the world, search data and other online behavior may continue to emerge as key research tools in future elections.

Measuring the impact of the Internet on the economy

With news of bankruptcies and bailouts dominating the headlines recently, it's easy to lose sight of one of the bright spots in our economy: the Internet. In an incredibly short amount of time the Internet has emerged as a key driver of economic growth, creating millions of American jobs that generate hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity.

This afternoon a new study commissioned by the Interactive Advertising Bureau put some real numbers on this very point. According to Harvard Business School professors John Deighton and John Quelch, the Internet is responsible for 3.1 million American jobs and $300 billion in economic activity spread throughout the United States. As Professors Deighton and Quelch put it, the web "has created unprecedented opportunities for growth among small businesses and individual entrepreneurs."

As the report makes clear, it's difficult to overstate the social and economic benefits of the Internet on the United States. Unlike any other platform in history, it has empowered entrepreneurs to start new businesses and connect with customers around the world, and has provided users with access to unprecedented amounts of information.

We think it's important for policymakers to understand the social and economic benefits of the Internet. That's why I was happy to see IAB also announce this afternoon the launch of the Long Tail Alliance, a group of small independent online businesses working to educate policymakers about the benefits of online advertising and to advocate against burdensome restrictions that would damage the Internet economy. In conjunction with the release of the new study, a group of Long Tail Alliance members representing 25 Congressional districts and 13 states took a maiden voyage to Washington to tell Congress their story. Check out some of what they have to say at "I Am the Long Tail."

As the Internet economy continues to grow, we hope Members of Congress turn to groups like the Long Tail Alliance, the Google Small Business Network, and others to better understand the tremendous economic and social benefits of the web and its impact on small businesses and entrepreneurs across the country.

U-M expresses support for the Google Book Search settlement

As I mentioned last week, the University of Michigan recently announced an expansion of its partnership with Google, making millions of books from its library collection accessible to readers, researchers, and book lovers across the United States.

This weekend Paul Courant, Dean of Libraries at the University of Michigan, penned an op-ed in the Ann Arbor News explaining that the approval of the Google Book Search settlement agreement will result in "ubiquitous online access to a collection unparalleled in size and scope, preservation of the scholarly and cultural record embodied in the collections of great research libraries, new lines of research, and greatly expanded access to the world's printed work for persons with print disabilities." Check it out when you have a chance.

Google submits initial comments supporting a National Broadband Plan

Open, ubiquitous broadband connectivity holds the promise to catapult America to the next level of competitiveness, productivity, education, health, and security -- but how do we get there from here?

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to deliver to Congress a National Broadband Plan by February 2010. This represents a golden opportunity for policymakers and all Americans to take a hard look at the current state of broadband deployment and uptake, and begin laying the groundwork for a communications infrastructure truly capable of meeting the demands of the 21st century. Today Google submitted to the FCC our initial thoughts for how we might do just that.

As part of a comprehensive broadband policy framework, we believe that our government should adopt a bold yet achievable goal for making high-speed Internet capabilities available to each and every American. Our comments call for all American households to have access, by 2012, to at least 5 Mbps upload and download speeds over broadband. We believe that a 5 Mbps benchmark is an ambitious yet attainable first-step, and that even more challenging benchmarks with much higher capacity levels may well be necessary over the course of the next decade. If this benchmark is accomplished -- so that today's unserved or underserved consumers become tomorrow's broadband customers -- we will have truly become an always-on nation.

In addition to laying out a suggested public policy framework, our comments also describe four concrete proposals that we believe would help advance this vision:
  • Install broadband fiber as part of every federally-funded infrastructure project. By some estimates nearly 90 percent of the cost of deploying fiber is associated with construction costs like tearing up and repairing roads. The National Broadband Plan should require the installation of broadband fiber as part of all new federally-funded infrastructure projects. Laying fiber -- or even simply installing the conduit for later fiber deployment, as Rep. Anna Eshoo has suggested -- during the construction or repair of roads and other public works projects will dramatically reduce deployment costs. And it's just good common sense.
  • Deploy broadband fiber to every library, school, community health care center, and public housing facility in the United States. Low-income Americans are increasingly left out of the digital revolution. The National Broadband Plan should call for the deployment of high-speed fiber connections to every library, school, community health care center, and public housing facility in the country. This would create community hub centers nationwide, providing access to underserved populations and potentially acting as a springboard for more widespread broadband adoption in these communities.
  • Create incentives for providers to install multiple lines of fiber as new networks are rolled out. The Commission should offer incentives to providers wishing to build new network infrastructure to lay cable containing multiple fibers. These unused fibers could in turn be leased or sold to other network operators, increasing competition along with deployment.
  • Encourage greater wireless broadband and reduce barriers to deployment. Last November, the FCC paved the way for "white spaces" spectrum to be used to deliver better and faster wireless broadband connections to American consumers. The Commission should encourage use of unlicensed devices in "white spaces" spectrum by eliminating unnecessary requirements and easing interference standards in rural areas where no actual harmful interference would occur.
Our comments also note that using broadband as an optimal Internet platform will require both considerable focus and substantial resources, both private and public. In short, there is no "silver bullet" solution. Instead, some projects will depend on market forces and companies investing private capital to construct new infrastructure (like Verizon's FiOS platform), while others will require direct government involvement through subsidies or regulatory mandates. Still others will require a mix of public and private involvement.

In developing a National Broadband Plan, the FCC has the opportunity to embark on a fresh course to ensure our nation's digital infrastructure fully meets our 21st century opportunities and challenges.

A vote for keeping the Internet awesome

If you've ever wondered about the power and popularity of user-generated content in Canada, consider this: if all three Canadian television networks began broadcasting Canadian content 24 hours a day, seven days a week, YouTube would still have more Canadian content than those three networks combined.

For the past several months Canada's telecom regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), has considered whether Internet content should be regulated. I'm pleased to report that the CRTC announced last week that it will continue its hands-off approach to new media. The real standout from the decision is the concurring opinion written by Commissioner Tim Denton. His concurrence is an impassioned defense of online free speech and a thoughtful reminder of the inadequacy of broadcast regulation to fully appreciate the social, political and cultural innovation made possible by the open Internet.

In our submission to the CRTC back in December, we argued that exempting new media from regulation is the best approach to "keeping the Internet awesome," noting that Canadians have uploaded hundreds of thousands of hours of video to YouTube. The CRTC's decision is great news for the millions of Canadians who use the open Internet to create, distribute, and find diverse Canadian and global content.

A new model for political interviews and debates

YouTube and Google partnered with the Politico and WJLA to give Virginian voters the opportunity to submit text or video questions for the state's three Democratic gubernatorial candidates: Terry McAuliffe, Creigh Deeds, and Brian Moran. Submissions took place on a new tool called Google Moderator, which allows you not only to submit questions or ideas, but also to vote on the submissions of others, moving them up or down in importance. Thousands of Virginians took part in the interactive interview, and last night WJLA and the Politico aired the results, in which all three candidates answered the top questions on television.

As our CNN/YouTube Debates demonstrated during the 2007 presidential primary season, the web allows citizen engagement to play a prominent role in the country's most important public forums. Now with Moderator, the people's voice can be an even more powerful force in surfacing the issues that matter most to the public at large. We've used Moderator in our "Senator of the Week" series on YouTube, and President Obama employed Moderator in his "Open for Questions" initiative back in April. We look forward to taking this model to other local, national, and international elections.

We'll also be partnering with the Politco and WJLA once again this fall for another series in the Virginian general gubernatorial election, so stay tuned. And if you want to create your own debate or interview series for your state or local elections, head over to to see what this new tool can do.

Google D.C. Talk next Friday: National Security and Web 2.0

An explosion in Web 2.0 tools over the past decade has changed the way the U.S. military and intelligence community operate. Soldiers use Web-based, collaborative technologies to aid combat operations in Iraq, and tens of thousands of individuals from the 16 intelligence agencies regularly turn to Intellipedia, a classified wiki aimed at helping analysts share information.

Join us next week for a Google D.C. Talk that will look at how and why these communities are using web-based tools to organize and share information. We'll also discuss the technical and cultural challenges to adapting Web 2.0 technologies to the national security realm.

The event will take place on Friday, June 12 at Google's Washington office:

Google D.C. Talks presents
"From the Bottom Up: National Security and Web 2.0"
Friday, June 12, 2009
10:00 AM - 11:15 AM ET
Google Washington Office
1101 New York Avenue, NW, Second Floor
Washington, DC 20005
Click here to RSVP

Until then, don't forget to submit your questions for our panelists -- Lt. Col. Patrick Michaelis of the U.S. Army, Sean Dennehy of the CIA, and Dr. Calvin Andrus of the CIA -- via Google Moderator. Hope to see you there.

Google Book Search settlement and access to out of print books

A few weeks ago we blogged about how the Google Book Search settlement agreement will expand access to books for readers in the United States. We recently took another important step forward, when the University of Michigan announced an expanded agreement with Google that will take advantage of the settlement to expand public access to millions of works from the University's collection.

Today we want to explain one area of the settlement in more detail: how the agreement increases access to out-of-print books, including books that some refer to as "orphans."

Out of Print Books

The settlement covers books that Google scans from libraries’ collections, the majority of which may be in copyright but are out of print. These books would ordinarily be hard to access, and one of the principal benefits of the settlement agreement is that it allows people to search, preview, and purchase access to them.

The settlement will also make it far easier for anyone -- including Google's competitors -- to license the use of most out-of-print books. As authors and rightsholders claim their books under the settlement, information about what books have been claimed and who claimed them will be made publicly available, allowing others to take advantage of this information. What's more, the settlement creates an independent, not-for-profit Book Rights Registry run by authors and publishers that will be able to license other services on behalf of rightsholders who want it to do so.

Today, it may be costly for someone to track down the rightsholders of many older works, and there's not much reason for those rightsholders to make themselves easy to find, because they can't earn any money from their work by selling it in stores.

The settlement agreement addresses this conundrum in concrete ways. Because out-of-print books will get a renewed commercial life through Book Search and other services licensed by the Registry, rightsholders are more likely to claim their books. In this way, the settlement creates real financial incentives for owners of out-of-print works to come forward.

In addition, one of the Registry's core missions is to locate the owners of unclaimed books in order to help authors and publishers claim their works and the revenues due them under the settlement. There is an extremely broad notification program already underway.

Orphan Works

While the majority of all book titles are out-of-print, only a minority of them are what some people call “orphans.” This term isn’t defined in U.S. law and people disagree on the definition, but it typically refers to in-copyright works whose owners cannot be identified or found.

As “parent” rightsholders claim their books through the Book Rights Registry, we think it will become clear that most out-of-print books are not actually “orphans.” Books that were once difficult for anyone to license will become books that are very easy for everyone to license, either through the Book Rights Registry or directly from their owners. Furthermore, many books that some think are in-copyright orphans (including a large percentage from 1963 or before) are actually out-of-copyright, and Google is working to make more information available that can clarify their copyright status.

Of course, some rightsholders may still be too difficult to find. Under the settlement Google will be able to open up access to truly orphaned books, but we still think more needs to be done to allow anyone and everyone to use these works. Any company or organization that wants to open up access to this untapped resource should be able to do so. The settlement is not a panacea, since it only covers a subset of orphaned works, provides only certain uses, and is not able to extend these uses to other providers. The need for comprehensive orphan works legislation is not diminished.

That's why Google has been working for years to pursue legislation to provide meaningful avenues for any entity to use orphaned works. We first explained our views to the Copyright Office on this subject over four years ago, and it will remain one of Google's priorities to work to pass effective orphan works legislation.

Fortunately, there isn't an either-or choice between legislation and the settlement. While we work with others towards a comprehensive orphan works solution, the settlement agreement takes one important step towards opening up access to orphaned books in the meantime. If the agreement is approved, anyone across the nation -- from a school child in rural America to a blind PhD candidate -- will have an easy way to go online and read books that would otherwise be hard to access. We are excited about making that possible.

Eric Schmidt on "Meet the Press"

Is confidence returning to the economy?

Google CEO Eric Schmidt sat down with NBC's David Gregory on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to weigh in with his thoughts. He appeared alongside Caterpillar's Jim Owens and Xerox's Anne Mulcahy on this Sunday's "Meet the Press." Check out this exchange from yesterday's broadcast:

Creating the future

(Editor's Note: This guest post was written by Jay Stanley, public education director for the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program and co-chair of the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2009 conference, which is taking place June 1-4 in Washington, DC.)

Eighteen years is an eternity when you’re talking about technology. Back in 1991, the World Wide Web was just being introduced to the public, 3.5” floppy disks were state-of-the-art, and a couple guys named Larry and Sergey were mere teenagers. That was also the year of the very first Computers, Freedom, and Privacy (CFP) conference, which took place in Burlingame, California. Over time, it has become an evolving collection of activists, hackers, technologists, academics, government officials, and journalists, who gather every year in a different city to talk about technology and its often bewildering implications for our lives. In the early 1990s, participants ruminated over the future of the new “Information Superhighway," sought early word about cutting-edge policy and technology developments, and debated topics such as the Clipper Chip. The conference flourished along with the dot-com bubble through the turn of the century, and after 9/11, the conference became a vital forum for debate and insight into the Bush Administration’s surveillance and anti-terror policies.

Today, the 19th annual CFP conference kicks off in Washington, DC for four days of lively debate. It comes at what feels like a whole new chapter in our history. It’s a time of economic crisis, war, and continued alarm among technology liberty advocates about government policies. But there’s also a sense that historic new possibilities have opened up. This year’s theme, “Creating the Future,” is intended to capture not only discussion about the gee-whiz technologies on the horizon, but also a recognition that the policy decisions we make today will shape our lives for years to come. It also reflects a sense that the future is to be created through intelligent policymaking, and is not at the mercy of deterministic technological imperatives or invisible market forces.

Like the technology revolution that fuels it, the conference remains a vital and dynamic happening, and this year’s attendance is expected to be higher than it has been in years. Government attendees are back in force to mix it up with activists, and a number of innovations are being introduced (such as a research showcase and a “Geekshare”). You can check out this year’s full program right here. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we’ll also be welcoming participation from several representatives from Google, who will be speaking on panel discussions about topics such as censorship, privacy and online advertising, and reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 — an outdated law that still governs standards for government surveillance. ECPA may have originated several technology lifetimes ago. But the perpetual technology revolution rolls on, and the CFP conference remains one of the best places for figuring out what it means.