Privacy Rights and Google Desktop 3

February 11, 2006

Topics: Blogging.

Google Desktop 3 has made a big splash in the news lately – and with good reason. Privacy is the going concern in search engine discussions these days, and Google Desktop 3 provides a phenomenal potential to violate your privacy.

To summarize, the latest version of Google’s desktop search software provides the option to search multiple computers. Essentially, you create an account, give Google access to your hard drives, and Google uploads copies of your files to their servers so that you can search all your computers at once.

Don’t get me wrong – I think that this is a brilliant idea. I would LOVE to be able to search all my computers at once. However, giving Google access to all your files seems a bit over the top for me.

It’s a question of trust, ultimately. We have already accepted that search engines can gather a significant amount of information about us from cookies, our personal accounts (if we have them), and our search habits. But to give one access to all of our files?

Google claims, of course, that your information will remain private. It is encrypted in transmission, encrypted on their servers, and you can select certain private folders to exclude with little effort. But they do also have to admit that "for the files stored on Google servers [they] would of course comply with valid legal process, but [they] provide notice to users when a request for their data is made, unless we are prohibited from doing that. . .".
(quoting a Google spokeswoman as quoted in Google Desktop 3 criticized, at CNET)

Oooh…a big "but" in that statement, isn’t it? Google, having possession of your data, would be obligated to comply with a subpoena or other legal process demanding your data. With the ever-present Patriot Act still in our midst and it’s gag order, this service could easily become a major laceration in our already corroding right to privacy.

I am willing, for the time being, to trust Google to not misuse my data. But Google is a public company, and although Sergey Brin and Larry Page may be angels from above, I rather suspect that they’re human, with human imperfections. Big companies change, and Google’s basic principle – "Do no evil" – may only go so far.

For further information regarding the legal implications of Google Desktop 3, see Give me Convenience or Give me Death, at "Privacy and Security Law Blog".

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