The St. Louis Post-Dispatch runs this piece of insightful analysis about the new Google desktop searching application:
People who use public or work computers for e-mail, instant messaging and Web searching have a new privacy risk to worry about: a new free tool from Google Inc. that indexes a PC’s contents to locate data quickly.
If it’s installed on computers at libraries and Internet cafes, users unwittingly could allow people who follow them on a PC to see sensitive material in e-mails they’ve exchanged. That could lead to disclosure of passwords, conversations with doctors or lawyers, or viewed Web pages detailing purchases.
First of all, many companies closely monitor the stuff filtering through their computers, even those used by individual employees. Yes, Virginia, your computer at work isn’t your computer, and you better believe that the creepy guy down in IT (to purloin the stereotype) reads everything you type into it, so don’t do anything on it that you wouldn’t want everyone else to see. Personal banking, hot e-mails to your wife and mistress, nothing. Expect that you’ll get a temp or consultant working in IT who wants nothing more than to snag your credit card or passwords before moving on.
And come on, if you use an Internet cafe, library, or college computer lab for anything but the most mundane Internet browsing, you’re already asking for the big hurt. Not only do you have to worry about an IT infrastructure staffed with transients (see above for risks involved with that), but you’re also facing other anonymous users installing spyware. I mean, public computers are public.
Unfortunately, the author of this piece attributes these security risks with the Google desktop when the risks actually represent an inherent danger of the computing environments described whether or not Google’s desktop has been installed.
Perhaps Google is on its way to being the next big technology company for media and the general population to nip in the flanks.