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Google Spyware? Bad Guys & Spies Using Google Desktop Search

Google Spyware? Bad Guys & Spies Using Google Desktop Search

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, 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!

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 powerful.

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 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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SEJ STAFF Loren Baker Founder at Foundation Digital

Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing ...

Google Spyware? Bad Guys & Spies Using Google Desktop Search

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