Google Spyware? Bad Guys & Spies Using Google Desktop Search

Oct 24 21:00 2004 Mike Banks Valentine Print This Article

I suppose I was naive when I cheered the new Google ... tool thinking it was ONLY a great way to help ease ... ... and help organize my hundreds of ... ... e

I suppose I was naive when I cheered the new Google Desktop
Search tool thinking it was ONLY a great way to help ease my
computer info-glut and help organize my hundreds of hard-drive
stored documents,Guest Posting emails and files. It seems that now I have
to worry about how bad guys and busybodies will use it to
spy on me!


The Google Desktop Search Tool Poses a Security Risk to
users of public or networked computers according to a new
Information Week article. If you use public computers at work
or at libraries, internet cafes, Kinko's or the local Mailboxes
Etc. store, now you've got to worry that previous users of that
public machine, or worse, the business owner or employees, have
installed Google Desktop Search on that machine to purposely
spy on you!
(Information Week)

It's possible to retrieve secure pages from the Desktop Search
memory of machines running the program. While it is possible
to turn off that function - bad guys using Google Desktop
search specifically to spy on you won't be turning it off,
eh? So now I've got to find it and turn it off every time
I use a public computer.

Although I wrote previously of my love for the Google desktop
search tool - it appears to have a BIG downside. The slippery
slope of good tools being used for illicit purposes could
destroy a great piece of software because it is simply too

The public will be up in arms over Desktop Search and Google
may have to withdraw it from public Beta. Though Google seems
to have weathered the storm over a similar uproar about the
searchability and thus the privacy of their beta G-mail
webmail, it could be a bigger storm brewing over Desktop
search. We'll watch for comment from privacy advocates on
the subject.

At this point it is tempting to simply shrug and say, "I hope
Google figures out how to stop illicit use of the Desktop
Search Tool," it's not likely. More likely is that it will
become one more headache to network administrators at
businesses who have to write scripts to stop the installation
of Desktop Search. Small business owners must now find a
way to stop employees from installing it on public computers
at internet cafes, just as they must currently watch for key
logging software and other spyware on public computers.

We'll all have to be extremely cautious when using public
machines at those small businesses and libraries and we'll
have to check for the Google Desktop Search icon in the system
tray of virtually every computer we use to be certain that our
use is not monitored.

Protecting private passwords for online banking sessions
while in Kinko's and keeping online job searches out of the
view of our bosses will get even tougher for employees using
networked machines at work.

I'm STILL in love with Google Desktop Search on my own machine
at home but now fear Google Desktop Search on public machines.
The issue doesn't stop with Google because both Microsoft and
Yahoo are racing to develop a desktop search of their own.

It means they'll all have to either make it possible for ALL
users to disable their desktop search tools temporarily or
create entirely different machines for public use.

I've long made it a practice to open the browser preferences
to clear the web history and dump the cookies from machines
I've used at conference press rooms and internet cafes in
dozens of cities. That drops my web mail passwords and online
banking sessions from the cache, so I don't have to fret over
who might be able to retrieve passwords after I'm gone. I do
it automatically now every time I use a public machine.

But now I've got to look for Google Desktop Search before I
use a public machine and turn it off while I'm using that
machine. Grrrrr! You have to take the good with the bad I
suppose. (Right click the icon and choose "Exit")

There's a lot to love about Desktop Search but I simply HATE
that others can use it to spy on me. I have no doubt that it
will be used by both bad guys for identity theft and by nosey
snoops and busy-bodies who will be virtually looking over my
shoulder in secret.

I'm sure Desktop Search will be used by parents to monitor
instant messaging chats, emails and internet travels by their
kids and possibly by spouses to check up on their sweethearts.
I'm not at all concerned that anyone will use my home machine
and Google Desktop Search to check up on me. (Although I've
been startled at phrases that turn up in the occasional spam
from my Outlook in-box from Google Desktop Search results)
I'm more worried that people will use it as a spying tool on
public computers.

I've also written before on the privacy risks of Google online
searches in an article on how to protect yourself from the
Google Reverse Phone Lookup. You can enter any phone number
in the search box at Google and see the owner of that phone
numbers' name, their address and a map to their front door!
Google seems to be too powerful for its own good sometimes.

Fortunately there is a phone lookup opt-out method at Google,

but the databases they draw upon pose a bigger problem. I
address additional opt-out methods in the article (linked
below) but it seems impossible to escape determined snoops.

I'll continue to use Google Desktop Search on my home machine
and will continue to love the tool for my web centered work
online to search client emails, documents and previously
visited researched web sites. But now I'll be far more wary
- on public machines - of bad guys and of Google Desktop
Search. Damn those bad guys!

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About Article Author

Mike Banks Valentine
Mike Banks Valentine

Mike Banks Valentine practices Search Engine Optimism at:
As a privacy advocate, his love of search technology sometimes
clashes with his privacy concerns at:
This article is available online at:
with working links to web resources.

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