It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that countless transgender people’s lives have been saved by books. Many of us first encountered others somewhat like ourselves in books painstakingly searched for in libraries, publications ordered through the mail – or more recently, through information located online. Decades ago, personal memoirs and obscure medical text furnished critical information and affirmation for isolated individuals. Recent years have seen an explosion of books on transgender topics – from personal essays to scientific treatises, historical tomes to manuals for helping professionals. These resources are invaluable for individuals who are exploring their gender identities, considering coming out to their loved ones, or contemplating transition.
One of the most crucial values of online resources – and increasingly of online books – for trans people is the ability to access them privately, from one’s own home. So it’s great news that Google is on the verge of expanding its online books services, Google Books, to make millions of books available for browsing and reading online. But Google’s lack of privacy protections for Google Books users should greatly concern trans people. As it stands, the company’s system design allows them to track what books users are accessing, what pages they’re interested in, and even what notes their making in the books’ electronic “margins.” Nothing is stopping Google from not only collecting and analyzing this information, but also sharing it with other businesses or government agencies (in the U.S. or abroad).
The ACLU of Northern California is running a public campaign to ask Google to commit to some basic privacy protections on Google Books. You can read more about their campaign, and send a message to Google, through the ACLU NC’s website.