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Does The Google Desktop Really Put Your Privacy In Jeopardy?

Does The Google Desktop Really Put Your Privacy In Jeopardy

There has been a lot of talk recently about Google Talk and how there are serious privacy concerns with the new application.

The biggest concern seems to come with the ability to search and share multiple computers with one account.

In other words, you could use a single desktop search account to search, index and allow you to share files between your desktop and laptop for example.

But are these concerns grounded in truth? Is there really a privacy issue here?

I downloaded and installed the new Desktop Search beta the other day. It has some interesting new features such as the ability to remove panels from the sidebar and dock them anywhere you like on your desktop.

And there are several more panels available to let you do anything from manage what is indexed, to passing time by playing games.

One of the coolest features is its ability to reach beyond the desktop it is on to do a variety of things. Now, I can play tic tac toe with co-workers, or even friends around the world.

But the biggest, and most troubling update to some is the ability to remotely index files, as well as share them using Google servers to temporarily store the items.

By turning this feature on you give Google the right to store your files for up to 30 days. Therein lies the crux of the issue – there seems to be no way around this 30 day requirement.

All I have to say is ‘so what?’

So what if you have to give Google this ability? Google will encrypt the data so that no one else can access it. And even if there is some sort of DOJ subpoena requiring access to these files I don’t think it would stand up in court.

This is because Google has set up a network whereby all your Google activities are tied to one Google account. Your personalized home page, gmail, google analytics, adwords and adsense accounts all share the same Google account.

Therefore, it would be difficult for anyone to get a subpoena to review information pertaining to only part of that account.

Legalities aside, if you are that concerned about the privacy being surrendered to Google in order to use this system then don’t sign up for it.

You can still download and use the new Desktop Search with most of its new features, but you don’t have to use the file sharing.

But what if you want to share files between computers?

Well, do what I did – go to your favorite electronics store and buy a flash drive. I just bought a USB flash drive with over 2 gigs of storage for under $100.

Now I can easily transfer anything between any computer with no worry of some government agency wanting to know what’s on it.

As I said, I do have the new Google Desktop installed, and I did look at the settings for the search and file sharing, but I didn’t turn them on.

I have no need to be able to search my home computer from work and vice versa, nor do I need to share files between the two computers.

And if I did, I’ll simply use the FTP site I have set up on a computer at home or the aforementioned flash drive.

Really, when it comes to all the other ways that Google captures your personal data, from search history to Gmail, should we be all that concerned that some files may end up being stored on a Google server somewhere?

I think we should have other concerns. For example, I think we should be concerned about what Google already knows about us via those services I mentioned earlier.

I think business owners should be concerned that such a service would allow employees to easily steal and transfer data to and from work.

I think if you are that scared of the US government infringing on your privacy then you shouldn’t have a Google account, nor Google Desktop Search nor a Gmail account.

In fact I don’t think you should have any Internet accounts because quite honestly everyone is a target for the DOJ.

Further, I can almost guarantee you that your local ISP will fold and hand over the data much easier than Google will.

So before you start complaining about how Google could infringe your privacy, remember that YOU have the ability to stop it from happening. It’s just a matter of choosing to do so.


The End Of The Google Honeymoon?

 

He sounded like the typical arch rival, but when Bill Gates announced to the world that “the honeymoon with Google will only last a couple more years”, did he have a point?

The world certainly has gone Google-Ga-Ga, with search, Gmail, Adwords, Analytics, Adsense and Toolbar causing a riotous storm.

I have read countless news items and blogs proclaiming the march of Google onto the desktop as a curtain call for Microsoft.

Google can now search within the local machine, will eventually power internet boxes as a replacement to Windows, and will eventually take control of the world!

Now, I’m certainly not Google bashing, but this kind of talk strikes me as crazy. Google have a powerful and technologically advanced search application. They have constructed beautiful search architecture and packaged it into a winning business model.

The launch of Adwords and Adsense was pure genius in a cost-per-click market that was staid and unconvincing, but I for one have serious doubts about the immediate impact of Google on Microsoft’s monopoly.

I use Adwords, Analytics and Adsense on a daily basis. All my email is combined into a Gmail account, which I read through Google Desktop Toolbar. Google is my search engine of choice, and all in all I’m happy with my Google package.

But there are gripes, and they’re growing.
The Google interface is plain. Of course it is I hear you cry – why would you want to clutter up such great technology with a cheap veneer?

Well, for us technical minded folk maybe, but I know plenty of non-technical people (and, lets face it, there are billions of them) that find this very plain approach to be extremely counter-intuitive. Take Gmail for instance.

Apart from a powerful search function, Gmail scores pretty low on the usability stakes. Most of the non-techie people I come into contact with

(I’m talking solicitors, teachers, middle managers – fairly intelligent people) have ditched Gmail for the familiarity and usability of Hotmail.

In Hotmail Microsoft supply an integrated and highly polished product that takes a novice by the hand and walks them up the garden path of email.

It might not have 2 gigabytes of storage and a whacking great search function attached, but a couple of folders and a delete button seem to work pretty well for most folk.

As I said, I use Gmail daily, but I can appreciate what these people are telling me. Of course we are talking about a beta product so let’s not dwell on this one…

Google accounts don’t talk to each other. Often I will need to log into my Adwords, Adsense and Analytics account within minutes of each other – and be required to log in separately for each one.

This drives me mad! In Passport, Microsoft has streamlined the login process from within the desktop, opening up a whole suite of web based services in an extremely usable manner.

Sometimes it feels like Google is trying to keep me out! I’d love to see one centralized login from which all Google accounts can be accessed.

My point here is that people demand a user friendly, polished experience. Google are currently making it difficult for non-technical minded people to access the products on offer.

A case in point can be seen in their help files. Just a couple of clicks into the Google Analytic help files will throw up numerous 404 error pages. Surely with such a powerful search facility a 404 should be unheard of.

Why, instead of a 404 page does the king of search not provide me with a list of possible places or sites that might be able to help? To organize the worlds information – unless it is unavailable so you’ll have to make do with a 404 error screen, sorry!

Google has grown very fast, and in some respects I feel that the company has been surprised by its own success.

The exponential growth of Adwords has generated so much revenue that Google is just throwing money in various directions, building Yahoo 2.0 in the process.

Many of Google’s services are admirable. Google Search and Google Books have and will change the way that humans store and retrieve information.

But Google is not a rival to Microsoft. In fact, given a couple of years, it could be Google that is threatened. Google has a killer model in the Search-Adwords-Adsense triangle.

They don’t need any other services to survive in a financial sense, so perhaps we should just be grateful they are providing some of these services for free.

But I for one hope that Google take time to consolidate and improve the usability of their products before they start chasing yet loftier aspirations.

Google is powerful, but it is failing engage those who don’t take to technology as readily as others. Sure, you can organise the world’s information – but let everyone get at it when you have.

I don’t want the honeymoon with Google to end, but I sense that it’s about to. Let’s just hope they put in the work required to make a marriage work!


Google Patent Application – Highlights

Does The Google Desktop Really Put Your Privacy In Jeopardy?
Does The Google Desktop Really Put Your Privacy In Jeopardy?

The recent patent application filed by Google details numerous items the search engine uses to rank web pages. The specific application is summarized as:

“A method for scoring a document, comprising: identifying a document; obtaining one or more types of history data associated with the document; and generating a score for the document based on the one or more types of history data.”

The patent application sheds significant light for those pursuing search engine optimization with Google. Patent applications can be difficult to understand, so following are highlights that you should consider for your SEO efforts.

Update Your Site
Updating your site is important when it comes to maximizing your rankings on Google.

In addition to the manipulation of keyword density and meta tags, the patent application reveals that Google places significant value on how often your content is updated.

The more often you update, the timely and relevant your site will appear to Google. In turn, this leads to higher rankings.

To appease mighty Google, consider the following plan of action:
Update pages frequently,
Add new pages to your site,
Interlink the new pages with others on your site, and
Add new pages on a weekly basis instead of all at once.

When Google returns to the site, you want to make sure that there is new content. The high rankings of blog sites are evidence of this approach.

Google’s Looking at Your Domain
In a new twist, Google claims that it analyzes the number of years of domain registration as part of the ranking process.

The application suggests that domains that are registered for longer periods of time are given more value because such a commitment shows the site is not a fly-by-night jump page.

It is recommended that you extend all domain registrations for as long as possible as part of your search engine optimization efforts. It is difficult to tell how much the registration process impacts the ranking process, but every little bit helps.

Google claims that it also digs deeper into domain names to evaluate the legitimacy of the site. Factors in the evaluation include the web host and the “who is” information.

According to the patent application, Google maintains a database of hosts that facilitate spamming of the Google search engine.

While such hosts are not detailed in the application, pray to God that you are not using one. You should evaluate your host if your optimization efforts are not producing results.

If your search engine optimization efforts for Google are failing, the patent application may provide answers. Talk about a perfect E-book!


Google Patent Application – SEO Highlights
Google Patent Application - SEO Highlights
Google Patent Application – SEO Highlights

The recent patent application filed by Google details numerous items the search engine uses to rank web pages. The specific application is summarized as:

“A method for scoring a document, comprising: identifying a document; obtaining one or more types of history data associated with the document; and generating a score for the document based on the one or more types of history data.”

The patent application sheds significant light for those pursuing search engine optimization with Google. Patent applications can be difficult to understand, so following are highlights that you should consider for your SEO efforts.

Update Your Site

Updating your site is important when it comes to maximizing your rankings on Google.

In addition to the manipulation of keyword density and meta tags, the patent application reveals that Google places significant value on how often your content is updated.

The more often you update, the timely and relevant your site will appear to Google. In turn, this leads to higher rankings.

To appease mighty Google, consider the following plan of action:

1. Update pages frequently,

2. Add new pages to your site,

3. Interlink the new pages with others on your site, and

4. Add new pages on a weekly basis instead of all at once.

When Google returns to the site, you want to make sure that there is new content. The high rankings of blog sites are evidence of this approach.

Google’s Looking at Your Domain

In a new twist, Google claims that it analyzes the number of years of domain registration as part of the ranking process.

The application suggests that domains that are registered for longer periods of time are given more value because such a commitment shows the site is not a fly-by-night jump page.

It is recommended that you extend all domain registrations for as long as possible as part of your search engine optimization efforts.

It is difficult to tell how much the registration process impacts the ranking process, but every little bit helps.

Google claims that it also digs deeper into domain names to evaluate the legitimacy of the site. Factors in the evaluation include the web host and the “who is” information.

According to the patent application, Google maintains a database of hosts that facilitate spamming of the Google search engine.

While such hosts are not detailed in the application, pray to God that you are not using one. You should evaluate your host if your optimization efforts are not producing results.

If your search engine optimization efforts for Google are failing, the patent application may provide answers. Talk about a perfect E-book!


Systems Using Google Mini Search Appliance May Be At Risk

Google, the number one search engine used by Internet users, provides web developers and users certain tools for customizing searches to the user’s liking.

Systems Using Google Mini Search Appliance May Be At Risk
Systems Using Google Mini Search Appliance May Be At Risk

While Google’s reputation is nearly impeccable and its products are generally thought of as “safe“, a problem first reported on June 10, 2005 causes some concern over whether such blind faith is wise.

According to The Metasploit Project, in August 2005, a patch had to be issued by Google to fix security flaws in its Mini Search Appliance. The patch, GA-2005-08-m, fixes problems with the Mini’s ‘proxystylesheet’ implementation.

By design, the Google Mini Search Appliance allows system commands and java code execution by users that would not ordinarily have such system privileges.

(See Google Answers.) But, because the search interface uses the ‘proxystylesheet’ form variable to determine what style sheet to apply to the search results, an opportunity for feeding the script dangerous code is presented. The malicious user can supply a variable that is either a local file name or an HTTP URL.

Researcher H. D. Moore says “This feature can be abused to perform cross-site scripting (XSS), file discovery, service enumeration, and arbitrary command execution” if the abuser chooses to use a remote URL. Moore provides an exploit example at Metasploit.com.

The example shows how using a remote URL to an XSLT stylesheet could be used to obtain a root shell.

Prior to Google’s patch, the user executing the code did not need sufficient system rights for the code to run and no checks were made prior to execution to ensure that the URL parameter was allowable.

While Google has stated that its Mini Search Appliance poses no security issues and has been thoroughly tested, Moore performed some random testing using a Google query on “inurl:proxystylesheet”.

Of the 43 websites tested, 23 were confirmed vulnerable and unpatched.

More information on the patch for Google’s customers who have purchased its $2995 Mini Search Appliance is available at the Google Enterprise Solutions support website.

The Google support group online for Google-Mini may also shed some light into security concerns of Google’s products and appropriate fixes.

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