The uber-geeks who run Google don't seem like to think about the messy world of law and politics. But it can't be avoided. The latest example: A Bear Stearns manager done in by a GMail account he thought was closed.
Matthew Tannin may have shut down his account, but Google keeps backups, and the company provided government prosecutors with "a CD-ROM disk... of Mr. Tannin's emails from November 20, 2006 through August 12, 2007," according to the New York Times. The prosecutors are trying to prove fraud in the collapse of two hedge funds, managed in part by Tannin, and have been helped along by his personal emails, one of which reads "a wave of fear set over me that the fund couldn't be run the way that I was ‘hoping'... And that it was going to subject investors to ‘blow up risk'."
Meanwhile, online tricksters reportedly protested Google's outing of the once-anonymous "Skankblogger," Rosemary Port. Lawyers have called Google "cowardly" for not fighting harder to protect Port's anonymity in a case brought by a woman targeted by Port's anonymous blog on Google's Blogger.com.
Google takes pride in its ability to retain data; Sergey Brin has an op-ed in the New York Times today holding Google servers up as more durable than the ancient Library at Alexandria. Meanwhile, every police department and district attorney's office in the country knows they can extract valuable data from the company. Google has little motive to fight much against these authorities. Not when it could be solving sexier geek problems like indexing books or launching real-time collaboration systems — and when it could potentially be minting billions on its next tech hit.