[NetBehaviour] Google Copies Your Hard Drive - Government Smiles in Anticipation

marc marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Sun Feb 12 19:50:36 CET 2006

Google Copies Your Hard Drive - Government Smiles in Anticipation


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
bankston at eff.org

More information about the NetBehaviour mailing list