Google Desktop Deemed Creepy

In a Tech Test Drive column, Mike Langberg finds the new Google desktop useful, but creepy. Why is it creepy?

Desktop Search does three things in particular that could compromise your privacy when someone else uses your computer:

First, the software keeps a copy of all your AOL Instant Messenger conversations. AIM, for many users, is like talking over the water cooler at work — you say things you don’t want preserved for posterity. Until now, AIM conversations with your buddies disappeared from your computer the moment you closed the discussion window. Desktop Search, however, makes a copy of AIM conversations and keeps them forever.

Second, the software keeps its own copy of all your Outlook and Outlook Express e-mail messages — even after you delete them from within Outlook or Outlook Express. A confidential company memo, in other words, will still pop up during Google searches after you’ve emptied the Deleted Items folder in Outlook.

Third, the software keeps a copy of every Web page you visit and lists those pages in search results with the date and time of your visit. This even includes Web pages that are supposed to be secure from prying eyes, such as those run by online banking sites.

It’s creepy because it shows you the sort of personal information that someone else’s servers already store about you and gives you insight into how much information you’re leaving scattered around the world.

The fact that it’s available on your local machine shouldn’t give you additional pause unless you’re susceptible to the old ploy of letting a man with a thick Slavic accent whose car has broken down sit at your computer so he can send an e-mail to his mechanic. Or, of course, if your local machine is fundamentally insecure.

Nevertheless, I have given the edict to those machines that I administer that Google Desktop shall not be installed. Crikey, how about you do some organization of your materials and then use the Microsoft Find feature to fill the gaps, wot?

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