[IP] Google Copies Your Hard Drive - Government Smiles in Anticipation,,Consumers Should Not Use New Google Desktop

Dave Farber dave at farber.net
Fri Feb 10 18:42:30 PST 2006

Hash: SHA1

ebruary 09, 2006
Google Copies Your Hard Drive - Government Smiles in Anticipation

Consumers Should Not Use New Google Desktop

San Francisco - Google today announced a new "feature" of its Google
Desktop software that greatly increases the risk to consumer privacy. If
a consumer chooses to use it, the new "Search Across Computers" feature
will store copies of the user's Word documents, PDFs, spreadsheets and
other text-based documents on Google's own servers, to enable searching
from any one of the user's computers. 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.

"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. "If you use the
Search Across Computers feature and don't configure Google Desktop very
carefully?and most people won't?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."

The privacy problem arises because the Electronic Communication Privacy
Act of 1986, or ECPA, gives only limited privacy protection to emails
and other files that are stored with online service providers?much less
privacy than the legal protections for the same information when it's on
your computer at home. And even that lower level of legal protection
could disappear if Google uses your data for marketing purposes. Google
says it is not yet scanning the files it copies from your hard drive in
order to serve targeted advertising, but it hasn't ruled out the
possibility, and Google's current privacy policy appears to allow it.

"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."

For more on Google's data collection:


Kevin Bankston
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
bankston at eff.org
Posted at 11:04 AM

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