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A search Google’s got a problem with

Janet Babin Sep 1, 2006

SCOTT JAGOW: If you aren’t on, you’ve probably heard about it. It’s a very popular social networking site. In Brazil, the equivalent is Orkut. Twenty million Brazilians have profiles on Orkut. It’s run by Google. But just like Myspace, there’s a dark side. People on the site who have an affinity for child pornography or hate speech. The Brazilian government wants Google to hand over data about these people. But there seems to be some miscommunication. From our Innovations Desk at North Carolina Public Radio, Janet Babin reports.

JANET BABIN: A Brazilian judge is getting heavy handed with Google. He gave the company 15 days to hand over data on the accused Orkut users. If it doesn’t comply, Google could be fined more than $23,000 a day.

But Google says it’s already responded to more than 20 court orders from Brazil. The company complains that the Brazilian prosecutor is looking for information in all the wrong places. Instead of asking its sales staff in Brazil for data, he needs to place his requests with Google in the U.S.

The company’s reasoning sounds like bureaucratic sidestepping to Paulo Prada. He’s a journalist based in Rio de Janeiro:

PAULO PRADA:“I think maybe in their eyes they think they are cooperating. But they are in a sense sort of hiding behind this technicality that, “Well, the data really isn’t really in Brazil. It’s in the U.S. and it belongs to Google in the U.S., not google in Brazil.”

Human Rights organizations say Google’s complicity is aiding child molesters and racists. Last winter, similar groups blamed Google for being too eager to please the Chinese government when Google agreed to limit access to some online information.

Marc Rotenberg is with the Electronic Privacy Information Center. He says search engines wouldn’t have to deal with these delicate balancing acts if they didn’t keep all the information they collect on users:

MARC ROTENBERG:“We’re criticizing Google for retaining the information because that’s what’s opened the door here. Of course, they’ve also created the risk by collecting the information.”

Rotenberg expects more government requests like this as countries realize all the data they can glean from search engines.In New York, I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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