Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Impact of Emerging Technologies: Google's Private Lives - Technology Review

Google's Private Lives

Its new desktop search application would make your personal files available for government searches without your knowledge.

By Dylan Tweney

A new search technology from Google makes it possible for law enforcement officials to examine personal documents from your hard drive, without your knowing it, according to the digital-rights advocacy organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Released last week, Google Desktop 3, the latest version of the company's desktop search utility, adds a "Search Across Computers" feature that automatically uploads files from a user's computer onto Google's servers. Then, when a search is performed on any computer owned by the user, Google Desktop will pull search results from both the Web and information stored on all the user's computers.

Certainly, such a feature will be handy for anyone trying to coordinate a project from different locations. Yet the idea of turning over private files to a public company is worrisome to privacy advocates. In fact, in a press release, the EFF has urged consumers to avoid the Search Across Computers feature because it would make consumers' files more vulnerable to subpoenas from government investigators as well as private litigants.

Of course, it's headlines news that Google (as well as its competitors) has already given in to pressure from a national government, by excluding censored content from its Chinese portal ( Although so far the company has resisted a U.S. Department of Justice subpoena asking it to turn over logs for millions of recent search terms, smaller subpoenas -- such as those for the search history of a particular user's IP address -- don't make the news, because they're often sealed.

This spells out the creepy feeling google desktop has always given me....

The Impact of Emerging Technologies: Google's Private Lives

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