Search App Raises Concerns

Google Desktop 3 could pose a serious privacy risk.

While search giant Google works to reassure its users that the latest version of its Desktop Search application does not pose the security threat some privacy watchdogs have said it will, at least one of the companys enterprise partners has confirmed it will continue to support the tool in its products.

On Feb. 9, Google introduced a beta of its next-generation version of the PC application, Google Desktop 3 for Enterprise, including a new feature dubbed Search Across Computers that has caused some industry watchers to label the new iteration of the software a potentially serious privacy risk.

Search Across Computers allows people with registered Google accounts to mine for information stored on multiple computers they work on and garner data remotely from their desktops.

According to some experts, including lawyers for IT industry watcher Electronic Frontier Foundation, in San Francisco, the feature could make personal or corporate data "more vulnerable to subpoenas from the government and possibly private litigants" while also providing a "convenient one-stop shop for hackers" were they to obtain a users Google password and therefore be able to access any data shared with Search Across Computers.

In January, storage market leader EMC, in Hopkinton, Mass., announced it was adding Google Desktop Search to one of its Documentum business units ECM (enterprise content management) products. EMC added the technology, which claims the ability to mine the data stored on a PCs hard drive much as Googles Web search indexes the Internet, in the name of offering its customers yet another avenue for querying corporate data as part of its ECI (Enterprise Content Integration) search package.

EMC executives said the controversy over the feature has done nothing to change their minds about the value of Google Desktop Search. Lubor Ptacek, director of product marketing for EMCs Software Group, indicated that the companys customers are still interested in working with the technology in their content management operations, and he said his company will continue to support integration with the product.

However, Ptacek said EMC will give its customers alternatives if they are spooked by the possibility of introducing Google Desktop 3 into their businesses, including offering the opportunity to use earlier versions of the software that do not include Search Across Computers.

Google representatives also downplayed the effect of the Search Across Computers controversy in the enterprise space. Spokespeople for the Mountain View, Calif., company said it will be launching a version of the Desktop 3 for Enterprise software designed specifically for enterprise users in the coming weeks that should help reassure potential EMC users about security issues. As with its earlier versions of Google Desktop for Enterprise, company spokesperson Sonya Boralv said the upcoming application will include tools that allow IT managers to shut off any feature, such as Search Across Computers, they decide not to introduce to other workers.

Advocate organizations such as the EFF remain far more incensed by the tool.

"This Google product highlights a key privacy problem in the digital age," said Cindy Cohn, EFFs legal director, in a statement. "If Google wants consumers to trust it to store copies of personal computer files ... it should stand with EFF and demand that Congress update the privacy laws to better reflect life in the wired world."

Security Features:

Securing Googles sharing technology.

  • Users must have PC administrative controls to download
  • Users are repeatedly prompted for approval before each piece of data is shared
  • Data that is not accessed for 30 days is erased from shared content
  • Shared data device location is encrypted by Google servers
  • Shared data is stored on a local hard drive, not on Google servers