Google Protects Trade Secrets from Department of Justice
Google has posted its 25 page response to the Department of Justice motion to force Federal courts to press Google to comply with a subpoena which requested two full months’ worth of search queries that Google received from its users.
The Google vs. the DOJ fallout began when unlike Yahoo, MSN Search, and Ask Jeeves; Google did not hand over search data to the government when issued the subpoena. While the move led to a media frenzied “Google is the hero of privacy” which lasted a good 6 or 7 days, one of the main reasons behind Google not opening up its information to public record has more to do with protecting its trade secrets and search algorithm information.
Nicole Wong, Associate General Counsel at Google, prints part of the response on the Google Blog:
Google users trust that when they enter a search query into a Google search box, not only will they receive back the most relevant results, but that Google will keep private whatever information users communicate absent a compelling reason. The Government’s demand for disclosure of untold millions of search queries submitted by Google users and for production of a million Web page addresses or “URLs” randomly selected from Google’s proprietary index would undermine that trust, unnecessarily burden Google, and do nothing to further the Government’s case in the underlying action.
Fortunately, the Court has multiple, independent bases to reject the Government’s Motion. First, the Government’s presentation falls woefully short of demonstrating that the requested information will lead to admissible evidence. This burden is unquestionably the Government’s. Rather than meet it, the Government concedes that Google’s search queries and URLs are not evidence to be used at trial at all. Instead, the Government says, the data will be “useful” to its purported expert in developing some theory to support the Government’s notion that a law banning materials that are harmful to minors on the Internet will be more effective than a technology filter in eliminating it.
Google is, of course, concerned about the availability of materials harmful to minors on the Internet, but that shared concern does not render the Government’s request acceptable or relevant. In truth, the data demanded tells the Government absolutely nothing about either filters or the effectiveness of laws. Nor will the data tell the Government whether a given search would return any particular URL. Nor will the URL returned, by its name alone, tell the Government whether that URL was a site that contained material harmful to minors.
But, the Government’s request would tell the world much about Google’s trade secrets and proprietary systems. This is the second independent ground upon which the Court should reject the subpoena. Google avidly protects every aspect of its search technology from disclosure, even including the total number of searches conducted on any given day. Moreover, to know whether a given search would return any given URL in Google’s database, a complete knowledge of how Google’s search engine operates is required, inevitably further entangling Google in the underlying litigation. No assurances, no promises, and no confidentiality order, can protect Google’s trade secrets from scrutiny and disclosure during the course of discovery and trial.
Read the entire Google Response to the Department of Justice (25 page PDF).