The RDV Group InfoSec Blog

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Don't Use Google Desktop?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation posted this week its response to Google's release of a new feature of its Google Desktop Software 3 Beta: "... greatly increases the risk to consumer privacy. If a consumer chooses to use it, the new "Search Across Computers" feature will store copies of the user's Word documents, PDFs, spreadsheets and other text-based documents on Google's own servers, to enable searching from any one of the user's computers. EFF urges consumers not to use this feature, because it will make their personal data more vulnerable to subpoenas from the government and possibly private litigants, while providing a convenient one-stop-shop for hackers who've obtained a user's Google password."

The New Zealand "National Business Review" also weighs in: "At the core of the criticisms being raised is a powerfully useful optional feature that allows users to search across the contents of multiple computers -- even when those other computers are offline. And that's the catch: the data is stored on Google servers ... several recent events have severely eroded that trust and warnings that might once have fallen on deaf ears are very likely to resonate deeply in the user community."

"Good Morning Silicon Valley" has a strong reaction, calling it a "security catastrophe. To be fair, "Search Across Computers" is an optional feature and, should you choose to enable it, the company allows you to manually erase your stored files from its servers at any time. Still, the idea of Google storing such user data, even for a limited period of time, turns my gut."

Be very careful of how you use this feature; it sounds like its usefulness is pretty limited compared to the exposure it creates. As Kevin Bankston, staff attorney to EFF says:"...Google will have copies of your tax returns, love letters, business records, financial and medical files, and whatever other text-based documents the Desktop software can index. The government could then demand these personal files with only a subpoena rather than the search warrant it would need to seize the same things from your home or business, and in many cases you wouldn't even be notified in time to challenge it. Other litigants—your spouse, your business partners or rivals, whoever—could also try to cut out the middleman (you) and subpoena Google for your files."

Oh oh ... and we all know how much the current government values personal privacy.


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