Google Wants to Be Your Bookshelves

Company plans to support sales in bookstores, but will store books online

Dan Clancy, director of engineering for Google Books, dropped by the Computer History Museum in San Jose last night to present the company's vision for digital books.

The company has been compiling a database of out-of-print books for years so that they can be indexed and presented with search results.

That effort hasn't come without controversy, however, with authors dragging Google to court and complaining about rights infringement, as well as worries that the company might monopolize the world's library.

Clancy promised that the company's sales of electronic editions would be device-independent, so that readers could download copies to their laptops, phones or e-readers.

However, one part of the presentation suggested that the copies wouldn't be stored on a buyer's machine, but instead "in the cloud," which means on Internet servers controlled by Google.

That prospect might be frightening to some, especially in the wake of Amazon's recent decision to remotely remove copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from owners of the company's Kindle reading devices.

While Amazon did reimburse people who purchased the electronic editions, and CEO Jeff Bezos ultimately apologized for the move, it demonstrated the company's power to quietly -- and instantly -- delete material from machines around the world.

Considering the importance of books to the concept of personal and intellectual freedom, the shift away from being owning a physical book to simply renting an electronic copy that could disappear at any time is a legitimate concern.

After all, the underground publishing and distribution of banned books in the Soviet Union known as the "samizdat" considered instrumental in the collapse of that tyrannical regime wouldn't be possible when objectionable literature could be monitored from afar and deleted with the push of a button.

Photo by Ashley Dryden.

Jackson West will never buy a Kindle or any other e-reader unless he can securely save and even encrypt anything he buys, borrows or creates.

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