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February 9, 2006

EFF: Don't use Google Desktop 3

Electric Frontier Foundation asks user not to use the new version of Google Desktop that searches across computers.

"Coming on the heels of serious consumer concern about government snooping into Google's search logs, it's shocking that Google expects its users to now trust it with the contents of their personal computers," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "Unless you configure Google Desktop very carefully, and few people will, Google will have copies of your tax returns, love letters, business records, financial and medical files, and whatever other text-based documents the Desktop software can index. The government could then demand these personal files with only a subpoena rather than the search warrant it would need to seize the same things from your home or business, and in many cases you wouldn't even be notified in time to challenge it. Other litigants - your spouse, your business partners or rivals, whoever - could also try to cut out the middleman (you) and subpoena Google for your files."

"This Google product highlights a key privacy problem in the digital age," said Cindy Cohn, EFF's Legal Director. "Many Internet innovations involve storing personal files on a service provider's computer, but under outdated laws, consumers who want to use these new technologies have to surrender their privacy rights. If Google wants consumers to trust it to store copies of personal computer files, emails, search histories and chat logs, and still 'not be evil,' it should stand with EFF and demand that Congress update the privacy laws to better reflect life in the wired world."

The privacy issue will become more visible in the next months, as Google tries to index more from your personal files and important information and ties that to your Google account (and that account links to your name, email and your online activity). If that small immortal cookie was enough to create a big debate a couple of years ago, the new features launched by Google that are linked to your account will leave place for many speculations. Google Toolbar 4, GMail, Google Desktop, Personalized Search record information about you: the sites you visit, how often you visit them, the keywords you search for, the domains you like most. Most of thiinformationon was also recorded before, but it was tied only to a cookie easy to delete. But know you have an account (or maybe more accounts) and Google will try to find many ways to keep you logged in.