TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Google Copies Your Hard Drive - Government Smiles in Anticipation

Google Copies Your Hard Drive - Government Smiles in Anticipation

Monty Solomon (
Sat, 11 Feb 2006 11:10:30 -0500

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

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