Friday, February 10, 2006

Google Desktop Search: The real reasons behind Google wanting to store your hard drive on its servers?

Tell everything about yourself to Google so Google can earn money and possibly some day turn you in!

EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) is coming out with a very strong warning to consumers urging them to not use the new Google Desktop Search feature as it "greatly increases the risk to consumer privacy."

With the new Google Desktop Search, your "Word documents, PDFs, spreadsheets and other text-based documents" stored on Google's servers which means you are not the only one who knows what's on your computer.

As a software engineer and professional search engine consultant I would like to draw your attention to the possible motives behind Google offering this service, based on my experience.

The new Desktop feature is not about offering users a great service. It's about Google being able to predict more efficiently what type of ads users would click on.

Predicting what ads to show to consumers
So for example, lets say Joe uses Google Desktop Search Feature and as a result has the contents of his hard drive(s) stored on Google's server. Google can then not only actively monitor what content Joe has on his computer but also what content Joe created or accessed recently. If Joe, for instance, recently created or downloaded five documents about "web hosting", Google could predict that wherever Joe goes online, "web hosting" ads would be the ones that Joe is most likely to click on. Predicting users demand in this way can help Google rake in billions at the cost of mine and your privacy.

On the other hand if a user creates documents about pregnancy, or mentions keywords about "pregnancy" in their recent documents, Google could guess that the user is most likely to click on "pregnancy" related ads.

Many people use the same password for multiple services
As a professional consultant I am surprised to see how many people use the same password for multiple services, which is a very insecure practice. Some of these passwords are shared with other people (such as a web site owner who may share his passwords with his webmaster).

People who follow such insecure practice may open their entire computers to prying eyes, thanks to Google Desktop Search.

ZDNET quotes Peter Sommers, a research fellow at LSE.
"If a law enforcement agency wants this information from Google, legally they're entitled to do that provide they comply with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. From a practical perspective, law enforcement agencies are always looking for places where they can get a great deal of information without much effort."

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