Privacy Advocates Wary of Google Tactics After it revolutionized the search engine, Google branched into e-mail, online shopping, videos and maps. But privacy advocates argue that convenience comes at a cost, and that users have reason to worry about their personal information.
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Privacy Advocates Wary of Google Tactics

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Google has an ambitious mission - to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful, and a famously ambitious motto - do no evil. The California company revolutionized the search engine and it branched into e-mail - or Gmail as it calls it - online shopping, videos and maps. Google is known for its minimalist interface and for its ease of use, but privacy advocates say that convenience comes at a cost.

Google hangs on to billions of Web pages and it collects data about what sites are the most popular and about who visits them. Other sites do this kind of collection, too, but Google is by far the biggest and it's beginning to hear skeptical questions that go straight to the issue of trust. Why, some ask, is Google peeking into windows? Why, others ask, does Google install computer cookies with a lifespan of 30 years?

Later on the hour, an intimate portrait of June Carter Cash. But first, Google versus evil. How has the Internet changed our definition of privacy and how has Google facilitated that change. 800-989-8255, if you'd like to join us. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail us - talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.

Declan McCullagh is a correspondent for CNET.com in San Francisco. He joins us from a studio at CNET, and nice to talk to you again, Declan.

Mr. DECLAN McCULLAGH (Chief Political Correspondent, CNET.com): Thank you, my pleasure.

CONAN: And when I mentioned Google peeking into windows, I was talking about a new feature that just became available last month called Google Street View. What is it? How does it work?

Mr. McCULLAGH: Oh sure. Google launched Street View about two weeks ago, just over two weeks ago, and I think May 29th. And what it does is it compiles images taken at street level from this, sort of, a camera-equipped light van. That is prowled all of America's major cities, and then you can type in an address - go to maps.google.com - and click on the Street View and you can see if you're lucky, or more unlucky, Google's vans have driven down your street, you can see a photo of the front of your home or workplace that's been taken probably in the last six or nine months.

CONAN: And the purpose is, this is - well, if you're looking for an apartment on that street, you might want to know what it looks like.

Mr. McCULLAGH: Exactly. You can say, well, maybe I do want to buy this home or at least go to an open house. Maybe this is a business I'm trying to find. Oh that's what it is in real life, now I know what it's going to look like when I drive down the street in my car.

CONAN: And you can understand how some people regard this as very cool, very useful, while others say it's just a little bit creepy because it does look they'd might not want to be caught coming out of.

Mr. McCULLAGH: Exactly right. What - it's interesting if you take snapshots of a moment in time on hundreds or thousands of streets, you're going to find some interesting things going on. There have been people caught, or maybe let's say photographed, leaving strip clubs, scaling walls in what looks like an attempted burglary. Things like that, and so it does raise more issues and just having, say, an overhead view of the city.

CONAN: And this privacy issue, Google is accumulating a massive amount of information in a variety of formats including this one we're talking about - videos, photos, texts from books. Why is it doing this vast data grab?

Mr. McCULLAGH: Well, yeah, that's a question maybe best post for Google, but I've - let's try to walk through this. I mean, at some point, Google wants to organize the world's information, and so a lot of what it does at some level has privacy implications. Its main search tool - its blog search tool, you can search for your name, Orkit the social networking site, Gmail, Street View but so far people seem to think that the benefits of these services outweigh any privacy costs.

CONAN: Now, the other hand is that they hold on to this information for a long time because that's the way their search engine works best, isn't it?

Mr. McCULLAGH: Yes. There's - there are some good reasons to hold on to information for a while. I was interviewing the fellow who runs pbwiki.com - a Wiki Web site creating tool - and he says, oh, we love to hold on to this information because then we can go back and look at trends over time. Look at what people use, what service - portions of our service and improve it. And so there are good business justifications for keeping the information.

The problem is, though, that Google until recently has kept it forever. Now they're saying they're going to start deleting it - I'm sorry, not deleting it - they're going to do some limited anonymization after 18 months. Other search engines like AOL say they're going to this after just a few months, I think 90 days.

CONAN: And Google did that, at least, in part from urging from lawsuits in Europe.

Mr. McCULLAGH: Exactly, right. They probably wouldn't have adopted that kind of time limit in the absence of pressure from regulators because until then their position was you'd never know when this data is going to come in handy.

CONAN: Now, when I do a Web search with Google, does it remember that I went to Amazon.com six times last month?

Mr. McCULLAGH: Yes and no. One - a big question is whether you log in to Google. In order words, create an account that you can use for Gmail, for instance, or if you have Google's ads on your blog. If there's - if you create an account, then Google is going to have your e-mail address, and then it's going to probably know what you've done across multiple sites and correlate that with your e-mail address.

If you don't have a Google account, then it will still set a cookie but it will just say that this person did the searches and it won't necessarily have an e-mail address or personally identifiable information tied to it. That's why a lot of us recommend that people don't allow Google.com to set cookies or go in infrequently and wipe the cookies, so then Google can't correlate your searches over multiple visits.

CONAN: All right. Explain to those of us who are idiots. What's a cookie?

Mr. McCULLAGH: It's a - Netscape coined the term in the mid-1990s. What it is, it's a small data file that's placed on your computer so that you can go back to Google - let's say, let's use New York Times as an example. When you go to the New York Times and you pay for the time select feature, it's a pain to log in every time you go there. I mean, type in your username and password.

CONAN: Sure.

Mr. McCULLAGH: And so what you can do is let NYTimes.com set a cookie - it remembers who you are and then the next time you come back, you don't have to do that again. Much the same way that a maitre d' at a good restaurant is going to remember repeat customers and provide, sort of, a customized experience. That's at least the beneficial aspects of cookies.

CONAN: And there are some people who wonder why is Google designing cookies that have a lifespan of 30 years.

Mr. McCULLAGH: It's actually - a lot of Web sites do that. It's not uncommon to use the maximum default cookie value, and that's sort of geek speak for let the cookies last as long as we can.

CONAN: Right.

Mr. McCULLAGH: But it's true. There's no reason that Google necessarily have to do that ad it could have the cookies expire just after a month, a year, whatever they like.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on this conversation. We're talking with Declan McCullagh from CNET.news.com. And if you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. CNETNews.com - I'll get the organization right in the third try.

And let's get Jayvee(ph) on the line. Jayvee is with us from Tallahassee in Florida.

JAYVEE (Caller): Hi. My question was related maybe more to cookies in general as the topic of your show dealt. Essentially related to - though I have no ill will towards Google, I don't necessarily appreciate the fact that they would place cookies on my computer whether I'd authorize it or not. As a means for consumers to, sort of, fight back as it were, would it be an effective tool to charge for the storage of those data files on our hard disk and for the time that they're stored there?

CONAN: So in other - does Google owe us money for keeping its storage - some stuff stored on our computer, Declan McCullagh?

Mr. McCULLAGH: There is a - the chance it's probably not. I mean, this is - there's no hard and fast rule, but the way the Internet has grown up over the last 10 or 15 years has been that cookies are allowed by default and you do every - and you can block them if you want. Every major browser has the option of blocking cookies. You can go to Safari preferences and just say don't allow these certain sites to set cookies.

I should say that it's not unique; Google's link is not that unique. Apple's cookies expire in 2012, Yahoo's at 2037, and NPR's in 2020. So it's not just Google that's doing - it's sometimes useful to know who your visitors are, so then they can set preferences and things like that on your site.

CONAN: Our cookies taste better, though. Jayvee, thanks very much for the call.

JAYVEE No, thank you. Bye.

CONAN: So long. Let's see if we can go to - this is Aaron(ph). Aaron's with us from Davis, California.

AARON (Caller): Hi, am I on the air?

CONAN: Yes, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

AARON: Yeah. I work for a small private investigation firm that services the Northern California Bay Area and as well as (unintelligible) valley and whatnot. And we found Google StreetWise to be very useful. Actually, the last three weeks in finding residences of people we've been contracted to perform surveillance on.

So we're not actually finding the people themselves, but when we send an investigator out that about, you know, helps us greatly in, you know, locating their residence, so we know where to setup and whatnot. So Google certainly got one happy customer here.

CONAN: And this is presumably for San Francisco?

AARON: Yes. They don't have coverage all over the bay area yet, but we've been able to find some claimant's addresses in San Francisco, as well as parts of the South Bay. Everyday, you know, you log on, there's a little a more of the map that's covered. And yeah, we think it's great and we can't wait until there's more coverage.

CONAN: Uh-huh. Okay. I guess, Declan McCullagh, there's a usage I hadn't anticipated.

AARON: Exactly.

Mr. McCULLAGH: Same here.

AARON: Bye-bye.

CONAN: All right, Aaron, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. It's interesting. Let's see if we can get Peter(ph) on the line. Peter's calling from Berkley.

PETER (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hey.

PETER: I wanted to make a contribution. I think the key question in these kinds of discussions - how do we define evil? And one contribution is to know that the root word, upo(ph), actually meant to exceed proper limits.

CONAN: And do you suspect that Google perhaps has exceeded proper limits here?

PETER: I wouldn't single out Google. I would like to make a comment that I've tried on my browser selecting that option where you can individually approve whether a cookie is planted or not. But if you choose that on some sites - for instance AOL, just as an example, I'm sure they are not unique - but I just get deluged and paralyzed by all the cookies that are trying to be planted by one advertiser after another, and I can't recognize who it is. And it just goes on and on, and you can't get to the - what you were doing.

CONAN: Yeah.

PETER: And it's really quite offensive.

CONAN: And, Declan McCullagh, that reinforces a point that you made earlier, a lot of companies and a lot of trust sites do this, it's Google that's the biggest.

PETER: Sure. Well, maybe so. But I mean they could make a contribution to mediating this process. I know what - they're one of the biggest players. And I would like to have the option to be able to individually approve or disapprove the planting of a cookie and I would like to be able to understand who's doing it, instead of just some abbreviation that I can't understand.

CONAN: So would you like to see a more transparency, so to speak?

PETER: Yes. And also, not get absolutely flooded, you know, like a waterfall crashing down on my head, of all these requests to plant cookies. There should be some limit on the users' experience while retaining choice, but not being completely overwhelmed by these choices.

CONAN: Peter, thanks very much.

PETER: Thank you.

CONAN: More on Google and you when we come back.

I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

New technology can make our lives easier, but convenience can come at a cost. As one of the biggest names in tech, Google often finds itself singled out as an example. The company is still taking heat from regulators in Europe, they say Google has not gone far enough to protect the user privacy. Here at home, some people complain that their photo or images of their homes showed up on Google's new street level maps, and they want no part of it. Still, there is no shortage of people signing up to use Google's services.

Declan McCullagh is still with us. He's a correspondent for CNETNews.com. We'll talk with Google's deputy general counsel in a couple of minutes. How has the Internet changed our definition of privacy and how has Google contributed to those changes? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail talk@npr.org. Check out our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.

And joining us now is Frank Pasquale. He teaches at Seton Hall Law School in New York, New Jersey and specializes in privacy issues and cyber law. He's with us from our bureau in New York. And, Professor Pasquale, nice to have you on the program.

Professor FRANK PASQUALE (Law, Seton Hall Law School): Oh, thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And most people who use Google services, like Gmail or the calendar, have to sign up for a Google account, which requires forfeiting some personal information, but you have to click to agree to terms of service. Are there legal grounds to complain about any invasion of privacy if you sign up for it and, of course, 99 out of a hundred of us don't read that stuff, anyway?

Prof. PASQUALE: Sure. Absolutely. And I think a lot of these often called browse-wrap contracts, because they are lot like the shrink wrap you get on your software. Once you open it, you're supposed to have agreed to the whole contract. But a lot of people, obviously, are not reading through the whole end user license agreement and that whole contract.

However, the courts have generally held people to be bound by the terms of the agreement that they click on. And so it's very difficult once you've entered into that essential contract with Google to go after them. However, there are some other issues that are opened up by people, say, who are using the service but have not particularly signed on for a particular account in the service, like if I just get it up on my computer and put up the Google's search box.

CONAN: Right. But if you sign up for the calendar, you automatically have to have an account.

Prof. PASQUALE: Sure. Yes.

CONAN: And same thing for Gmail and other things. Then there are people who don't sign up for anything, but nevertheless, may find pictures of themselves or their house on Google's Web site.

Prof. PASQUALE: Absolutely. And that raises some very interesting issues that the Europeans and Quebec have sort of - these countries have anticipated some of these issues, and actually have some laws, some regulations against the commercial use of these sorts of photos of individuals without their permission. In the U.S., in general, that's not an issue. I mean, if someone does not have a reasonable exploitation of privacy in the front of their house or, you know, one publicized case of their cat looking out the window, someone complained about that being online.

CONAN: Sure.

Prof. PASQUALE: There are a few states, though. Like Texas does have a very odd law that says that if you take a photo of someone for prurient interest, you know, that could raise some issues in Texas. So it is very interesting to see how some of these individual state laws might come into play here.

CONAN: And has the U.S. government gotten involved with Google on privacy issues?

Prof. PASQUALE: It has, but rather indirectly. The Federal Trade Commission back in 1999 served - has been a bit of a privacy entrepreneur and started looking into some of the issues involved here. But it's all being done a bit indirectly. I mean, there isn't - there's some pressure and even with the new double click purchase through some concerns raised by the FTC, which is both anti-trust and a privacy watchdog. But in general, in the U.S., it's been a pretty hands-off approach.

CONAN: And the other question is, people fear what Google might do with this information in terms of selling it or making it available to people. They also worry that this information - all these information about them might be accessed by some outsider whether that's the government with a warrant or whether that's a hacker with a very good program.

Prof. PASQUALE: Absolutely. And that is an area where Google, to its credit, has been way in front of some other search engines in terms of trying to stop the government subpoena last year when it tried to connect IP addresses to the search records, or when it tried to - excuse me - to get search records in its defense of the Child Online Protection Act.

CONAN: That's for looking for child pornography.

Prof. PASQUALE: Yes, exactly. Well this was actually - this was an act that was involved in trying to shield children from pornography and the government was trying to prove essentially that lots of random searches that would be totally innocent could come up with these types of images and they wanted to look through all of Google's files.

Now, of course, Google said that when it did this, it was trying to protect user's privacy. And perhaps it had standing to do that. But I think a larger concern of Google, and I think it's a larger public concern, is that it was protecting its trade secrets. It's very keen on protecting its trade secrets, how it organizes the data, how it puts it together, all those things.

CONAN: Which argues that - its argument against the transparency that one of our callers was going into earlier. Declan McCullagh, every organization says, well, we've made every effort to protect our files; no outsider could possibly get into it until that happens.

Mr. McCULLAGH: It's true. History has a lot of examples of people saying, that this is unbreakable, or it is invulnerable, and then, of course, the privacy is violated. But to Google's credit, they have not yet suffered the kind of data breach that we're talking about. Maybe it's just a matter of time or maybe, you know, that they have done the right thing. One interesting point though is that we use search engines nowadays as, sort of, our window into the world, or at least, our window onto the Internet. And so there's - if you look at someone's search history over time, you can gleam quite a bit of information about people.

Google search firms have popped up in a criminal case, a North Carolina murder case, the defendant was found guilty in part because he searched for words like neck, snap, break, and it was his wife that turned up dead. Another wireless hacking that the Google search firms involved things like wireless interference. And so, you can - and so there is a privacy threat inherent in any organization - Google, Yahoo, Microsoft or whatnot - collecting that much information and then making it available, because of it (unintelligible) our legal system to prosecutors in a criminal case, or civil litigants, even divorce lawyers in a civil case.

CONAN: So, what you're suggesting is in fact that we ought to see that we're going into a public space when we do this, whether we have an account or not when we go on Google, and that indeed our activities can, under certain circumstances, be reported.

Mr. McCULLAGH: It's true. And so this is a reason to apply probably market pressure on companies to at least be clear about what they're doing with this data, when they're going to delete it. AOL deletes - logs its searches day to day - tell me after 90 days. Why does Google only and partially anonymize, not even completely delete after 18 months? Why not - why wouldn't they follow AOL's lead in this case, for instance?

CONAN: And…

Prof. PASQUALE: There's actually - also, there's actually some reasons why they wouldn't. And that's because they're often required to retain data by authorities both in the U.S. and Europe.

Mr. McCULLAGH: But there's no data retention law in the U.S. Congress has debated it but has not passed it. So Google doesn't need to do that in the U.S.

CONAN: And, Frank Pasquale, this idea that expectation of privacy when you enter in a Google search. There is some expectation of privacy, I would think.

Prof. PASQUALE: That's a very interesting legal standard and I think that's going to be part of a big cultural war. And I like the way that Declan has brought up the idea market pressure. I think there's also got to be some sort of cultural movements like the cultural movement that ultimately led to some legislation on things like choice points or the credit reporting agencies and other massive compilers of digital dossiers.

CONAN: Let's get to another caller on the line. And this is David(ph). David's with us from Reno, Nevada.

DAVID (Caller): Hi, how are you doing?

CONAN: All right.

DAVID: My question is that for people like me who sign up for Hotmail account or any type of account, I've got - I never use my real information as far as name and address or anything like that. And when I have to use credit cards or enter it in, I still don't use my real information. And how does that affect people like me still?

CONAN: Well, you - presumably that credit card number is got to be real or you're not going to get the doily you've ordered for your aunt.

DAVID: Well, the thing is, as frequently, you can use a credit card over the Internet without putting your real name.

CONAN: Oh, your real name. Okay. Declan McCullagh, I think that meant - there may be other people just as clever as David out there.

Mr. McCULLAGH: Maybe. I don't think I quite understood the question, but if you're worried about using your credit card over the Internet, many retailers will let you call up and give it to them over the phone. But in reality, what seems to be happening in the data breach cases that we're seeing and we're writing about is not so much that the information being captured in transit. It's more that the back up tape goes missing or someone breaks into the database. Or even if you call up someone on the phone, that information could still end up being divulged.

CONAN: Yeah…

DAVID: I can't imagine why anybody like me today would use any of their real information such as their home address or anything when filling out these required things. I never do. And if I use - if I use a search that…

CONAN: Frank Pasquale, let's ask you this expectation of privacy that people have. I guess there are ways like David has to get away - get around it, but ultimately this is not going to work for most of us.

Prof. PASQUALE: Indeed. And perhaps from his example, it might be a bit unnerving.

CONAN: It might be, yeah. Indeed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. PASQUALE: So I think that in general, I mean, it is - it's very interesting in terms of the expectation of privacy and there are some programs out there - the Electronic Frontier Foundation and some other - the Electronic Privacy Information Center, EPIC - have done some things in these areas. There's a program called Tour(ph) that might get people some chance of anonymizing themselves out there.

But in general, it is - your IP address is a real address and it is connected to you, and it's connected to your computer, by and large, if you're using broadband or you're using the main providers of Internet services. So everyone should be concerned about this in the sense that it's very hard to get out of the system.

CONAN: Let's bring Nicole Wong into the conversation. She's deputy general counsel for Google and joins us from the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California. And Ms. Wong, you've been very patient. I know you've been listening to this program and I'm sure there have been several points you wanted to jump in. It's nice to have you available to talk to us now.

Ms. NICOLE WONG (Deputy General Counsel, Google): Oh, thank you so much for the opportunity to join.

CONAN: And a lot of people as you've heard are concerned about the information that Google collects about Internet use. What does Google collect and what does the company do with it? Is this proprietary?

Ms. WONG: So for a lot of our regular users, you're probably - well, we have a whole range of different types of products. The one that we're most well known for is our search engine, but we also, as was mentioned earlier in the program, we have an e-mail service and we have things like Google Earth, and we have a number of other interesting new products.

One of the things that we really tried to do is to design all of our products with transparency and choice built into the product. And what I mean by that is that when you use one of our products, we try to design it so that you are aware of what types of information is being collected and how it's being used. An example of that would be what is called our Google Toolbar, it's a toolbar that helps you and attaches to your browser before you can even download it. A little window will pop-up and it says in big bright red letters, please read this, it's not the usually yada yada. And it tells you exactly what we're going to do.

That's an example of trying to be transparent with our users and also letting them make a different choice, which is they don't want to download the toolbar. One of the things we'd also tried to do is have a range of our products that are available without having to sign in or provide us with any personally identifying information. Certain types of things you can't do that, right?

CONAN: Sure.

Ms. WONG: If you sign up with an e-mail account, you have to.

CONAN: Yeah. You talked about transparency, an earlier caller - I'm sure you heard - mentioned this problem, as he sees it, of cookies, cookies that are - last for 30 years. Are they transparent? Do we know that they're coming? Do we know who originated them? Do we know what they do?

Ms. WONG: So, one of the resolves for cookies getting on to your computer is - I think Declan was mentioning it - you can set your browser not to accept certain types of cookies, and we do allow for users to use our services without having to have that cookie at all. We initially set that cookie because, what it means is that a user as they come back to our site again and again, they don't have to reset their preferences all the time. That cookie is there to sort of set your language preferences. That if you want it to be in French instead of English that can happen. It also does things like set what we call our safe search filter, so that you only see things that were - would be appropriate for children not necessarily.

CONAN: Those aren't the only things they do, though?

Ms. WONG: Ah well, for the cookie, that's the primary thing - is to set your preferences, and of course, you don't have to use it at all.

CONAN: We're talking about Google privacy, and you, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let me just continue with Nicole Wong. With Street View, can users ask that photographs be taken down if they say, look, I didn't want my cat or whatever it was in this picture.

Ms. WONG: Yes. I think that was one of the issues, there's a cat visible in a window. Yes, we actually - we thought really hard before we launched this product, and we're still looking at - even after post-launch - to take a lot of feedback, both from our users, and from folks like Declan and privacy advocates and regulators. This product was built with a feature to flag content that you don't want in the system. And so, we will review all of those flags and remove the ones that are inappropriate.

CONAN: And is the goal eventually to have every street and byway in America on this service?

Ms. WONG: Oh well, that would really be useful, these things to all of our users, to have all the streets. It's a very large project obviously.

CONAN: Obviously. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Casey(ph), Casey with us from Rapid City in South Dakota.

CASEY (Caller): Hi, I just kind of have a comment that I wanted to point out. I think it's - so many times we're trying to hold the big companies responsible for making our stuff private, but I think a lot of users might not even realize that the Internet is a public place, and if you are going to google.com or yahoo.com, then you are in a public place where some information is going to be seen. And seems like so many times that I see people whining about their privacy and that they want this to be private. Well, most of the time, they really - the fact is, they don't want what they're doing is to be seen in public, which is…

CONAN: Right.

CASEY: You know, and it seems to me like they're doing something that they're embarrassed of or whatever. So if you're not going to do it on public, why would you…

CONAN: So, they want to keep private and I guess that goes back to - made this rate and survey with Frank Pasquale. But Nicole Wong, is there an expectation of privacy if I go on a - the Google search page and put in whatever it is?

CASEY: Well, and then…

CONAN: Now, we get an answer from the Google representative here, excuse me, Casey.

CASEY: Okay. Sorry.

CONAN: Go ahead.

Ms. WONG: Sure. I think it always depends on what types of service. Casey's probably thinking about services like MySpace, or where people are uploading things that are for public display. And I think that for our Google search pages, again, you can use our Google search system without ever providing us any personally identifying information. We also have a whole privacy center where we do try to be transparent with our users about the type of information collected when you do a search on Google. And we hope that we've helped them to make meaningful choices by giving them that type of information.

CONAN: Casey, thanks for the call.

Here's an e-mail from Cathy(ph) in Illinois. As the owner of a Gmail account, I find it disconcerting to get an e-mail and find ads alongside keyed to the content of the message. I'm an activist and frequently have messages - I don't really want everyone reading. What's the process that Gmail uses to key into the content on my e-mails to someone - many ones actually have access to the content of my messages? Can company access to my e-mails?

Ms. WONG: I'll take that one as, that - actually it's important to clear of any sort of misunderstanding about how Gmail works. No person is reading those e-mails in order to match ads to it. It's completely by computer. And it works very similarly to the way our search technology works, which is that, that computer will identify a key word in the content of an e-mail, and it will simply look in our system of ads and find the thing most relevant to that key word.

When you close your e-mail, all the record of whatever ads showed on the site disappear, they are no footprints left based on that. So in a lot of ways, compared to other free web mail services where when you sign up, you have to give them information about demographics, like what age? What gender? What income level? And your interests because that's how they are going to target their ads to you and their free service. Ours are really only targeted on information that we're already holding for you because we are your e-mail service provider.

CONAN: Because you are the e-mails and we've signed-up for that account and we should have read all that stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks very much for taking the time to be with us, Ms. Wang.

Ms. WANG: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Nicole Wang, deputy counsel - deputy general counsel at Google joined us by phone from Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California.

We'll take a couple of more of your questions about Google privacy and you with Declan McCullagh and with Frank Pasquale when we come back. Also, when we come back, we're going to be talking with John Carter Cash, who's written an intimate portrait of his mother June Carter Cash. Stick around for that.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: Let's continue our conversation about Google privacy and you. Our guests are Declan McCullagh, a correspondent with CNETNews.com; and Frank Pasquale, associate professor of law at Seton Hall and they're both with us. And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Amanda(ph). Amanda is with us from Salt Lake City.

AMANDA (Caller): Hi. My question is whether it's possible to have links to yourself that pop up on, like, the Google search? Can you have those removed? I had done some interviews with a school newspaper regarding some health issues and now, a friend of mine pointed out to me that they googled my name and some really personal information came out that's been published even, like, across the nation, different places have picked it up. Is it possible to get those links removed?

CONAN: Declan McCullagh, would you like to tell her, no?

Mr. MCCULLAGH: Yeah, I don't think the news is good on this point. The problem is not so much Google, it's just making the information easier to find. The problem is what the publisher that put the information on in the first place. It sounds like it might be a student newspaper, and you gave an interview to them. And so you're going to have to go back and say, hey, can you either take this offline, or add a tag, or something to it?

One technique is called robot.text, to say that article will still exist on our site but will not be indexed by search engines. So you should go back and talk to the newspaper and say, look, I know you have no legal obligation to do that, but could you, as a favor, just have it removed from Google?

Prof. PASQUALE: There's also…

AMANDA: Okay. I'll try that. Thank you.

CONAN: Frank Pasquale?

Prof. PASQUALE: Sure. There's also some other services that you could hire or that you could try yourself just to knock it off the first page because there's been lots of studies done about Internet searches usage patterns and a lot of times people don't go pass the first few pages.

And so if you hire something like ReputationDefender, there are some companies out there, they're very new in their upstarts and they've made a few missteps. But they are trying to provide the service where you can at least hide the embarrassing results beneath things that maybe more positive or favorable to you.

CONAN: Good luck, Amanda.

AMANDA: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get - this is John(ph) on the line. John is with us from Provo in Utah.

JOHN (Caller): Hi. Good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

JOHN: …for taking my call. I just had a question and a comment basically about the street level service of Google.

CONAN: Sure.

JOHN: I don't really think that it's an invasion of privacy because I can - it's just more a convenient way for me to see what things are like on, say, 171 West Main Street in Cincinnati, Ohio. I could get on a plane and go look at it and take a picture and post it on my own Web site. But now it's just a little bit more convenient for me to do that.

CONAN: Unless the camera peeks in the window and see something that the owner might - well, where do we get into, Frank Pasquale, what's private and isn't?

Prof. PASQUALE: Absolutely. It's a great question. And I think the problem here lies on the ease of use of these types of services. For example, when you just have a lot of digitalization of court records that you might have had a court record that'll be lying in some vault in a small town that could only be accessed by someone actually getting to that record.

And nowadays, you know, there's lots of courts that are putting out their court records out there. And I think that the problem lies not necessarily in the fact that, well, you could have done it anyway, but in the fact that we've reached this point where there's all these data out there and you can't control this digital person, this sort of avatar or second self you've got online.

And for example, a lot of countries are worried about this, Finland has banned the use by employers of Google when they're screening applicants. Because for precisely this type of worry, you know? And in terms of the street level view, you know, maybe I don't worry so much about, you know, my house being on it. But think about it, perhaps, I have not mowed the lawn for two months. You know, I've been away, and that's the image that's (unintelligible) online.

CONAN: And you decided to sell your house?

Prof. PASQUALE: Yes.

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Prof. PASQUALE: And everyone that goes on Zillo or wherever to see my house says, wow, what a dump. And I think that that's why we need to have more accountability by the search engines in terms of giving us some autonomy in how we present this digital person, the second self that's online.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JOHN: I have another question. Does Google - is it able to access things that would - somebody would place on a MySpace page?

CONAN: Declan?

Mr. MCCULLAGH: It depends. If there's - MySpace tends to be a more open environment than, say, Facebook that is more close. And so MySpace pages tend to appear in Google and Facebook pages tend not to. So it really depends on how the creator of the social networking sites set it up and the individual privacy preferences that the users decide on.

JOHN: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, John. And we'll end with this e-mail from Maureen(ph). I'm not very computer savvy, so how can I be even to begin to understand the rights I may be giving away with organizations like Google. Also, it seems that the laws about privacy may be outdated in this new age of electronic information. If I'm walking down the street or standing in front of my house, I am aware that I will be seen by people passing by. I do not expect to have a photo or a video of me to be posted on a Web site that anyone in the world can view. This seems very wrong to me.

And, Frank Pasquale, this is where people are getting into - levels of discomfort.

Prof. PASQUALE: Absolutely. And I think that the history of privacy law is a history of how it is dealt with new technologies. And I think it would be very unwise, just it was unwise to, say, in the 1920s that wiretapping wasn't a problem because it wasn't going actually into somebody's house. And that was later overturned, thank goodness. I think that we have to update the paradigms so that we can actually give voice and actually give some substance to these concerns in the law rather than just telling people, well, do self-help, you know, wear a burqa or something.

CONAN: Yeah. Digitize your own face, so it's blurry.

Prof. PASQUALE: Yes.

CONAN: Frank Pasquale, thanks very much for your time today.

Prof. PASQUALE: Thank you.

CONAN: Frank Pasquale, associate professor of law at Seton Hall Law School. Joined us from our bureau in New York. Declan McCullagh, always good to talk with you.

Mr. MCCULLAGH: Likewise.

CONAN: Declan McCullagh, correspondent for CNETNews.com and he joins us today from CNET headquarters in San Francisco.

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