Why won’t Google comply with the U.S. Department of Justice’s subpoena, and what does this move mean for online advertisers?

Posted on in Blog

There has been a lot of speculation regarding the reasons Google refuses to hand over a week’s worth of Internet search queries, from a list of 1 million random web addresses to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The government is working to build a case for the need of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which was shot down in 2002 for its broad scope. The DOJ needs to show how the COPA can protect minors, while maintaining the rights of adults to view pornography on the internet.

The DOJ first subpoenaed Google, among other search engines, a year ago, but the search giant continues to hold out. Mercury News reported that Google has refused to hand over the data due to privacy concerns and the concerns over the revelation of company trade secrets.

There has been a lot of talk about the real reason Google won’t give up the data. The big question is whether Google is really concerned about user privacy and trade secrets or if there’s more at stake? What could the harm be in turning over aggregate search data?

The suggested reasons for the holdout are wide ranging. Just to list a few.

• The discovery of the shear number of pornography related searches performed each day might leave a sour taste in the mouths of Americans, leading to a backlash against the engine and its outrageous stock price.
• Handing over search data to the government, Google algorithms and other critical trade secrets could be exploited, leaving Google at the mercy of Uncle Sam.
• The potential loss of revenue that Google currently enjoys through the online advertising of pornography.
• Deep concern over the privacy of users and the true belief in fighting for First Amendment Rights.

The effects of Google handing over the search results to the DOJ are unknown. Could complying with the subpoena hurt Google’s image or even worse, its main source of revenue? AdWords could take a hit if restrictions are put in place. And how would Google make up for the lost revenue; raise the paid search costs for other advertisers? What if Google lost some of its trusting followers for stepping outside of its carefully crafted image by working with the government?

Maybe we’ll never know. Google has already held out much longer than any of its competitors and seems poised for a good fight.

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