Google has been working on a monumental project to scan millions of library books and put them online. Many of those books are not yet readable, because of a copyright lawsuit filed by authors and publishers. That lawsuit has been tentatively settled, and if a judge approves the deal this fall, millions more books will be available to browse through and read.
Lethem wonders whether future readers will have the same kind of relationship with books that he had. “When I was on this very private, very eccentric, intense journey as a younger person, it was crucial that it be a solitary practice,” he says. But if future readers have reason to think they’re leaving a digital trail, he adds, it might deprive the reading experience of its intimacy.
Lethem is one of several authors — including Michael Chabon and Cory Doctorow — who have signed on to a campaign to pressure Google Books to offer greater privacy guarantees for its readers. The effort was organized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“They know which books you search for,” says Cindy Cohn, legal director for the foundation. “They know which books you browse through; they know how long you spend on each page.”
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