New Google Desktop Search Arrives to (Surprise!) Controversy

10 Feb ’06

Just weeks after the U.S. Justice Department’s attempt to access search histories from Google and other search firms, Google has released a new version of Google Desktop Search that optionally allows users to store the search index online, the better to permit GDS to search across multiple installations of the user and to permit the user to access the data remotely. (Between Lawyers notes that the online index is encrypted, which certainly makes sense, but so far I have not found a source for this.)

The sound you just heard was jaws dropping at the EFF, which is now mobilizing against the feature:

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.

(Interestingly enough, Google is now also being criticized for not using its blog to respond quickly enough to misinformation that’s allegedly (but surely, almost certainly) being spread about the feature on sites like Slashdot. Good grief – and just like that, blogging is already over as a rapid response public relations tool).

The obvious answer to concerns raised by the EFF is that all of this is disclosed and therefore voluntary. The blogosphere will no doubt dissect the disclosure in minute detail over the next few days and the controversy that has erupted will ensure that every sentient being on the planet will know about the feature before the week is out. All that being said though, given the novel perspective on the privacy of its citizens that the U.S. Government now appears to have taken, I suppose one can reasonably wonder whether users of services like this are ever truly consensually opting-in – opting-in to what, exactly?

Meanwhile, Dan Warne asks the intriguing question: are we Google junkies? Speaking for myself, questions about whether we have free will or strike Faustian bargains when we explore these new technologies are a little heady for a Friday morning, but Dan also links to a nifty post by Phil Sim that asks whether GDS 3 has just raised the bar on Web 2.0.

A final but initially unannounced feature of the new version is that it guarantees that (i) most blog posts for the next few days will begin with “All Your Information Are Belong to Google”, and (ii) Google will go into this weekend embroiled in yet another controversy over its use of data.

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