A little something for the control control freak

No, you’re not seeing double. And I didn’t mistype, either!

(For the dyslexic in all of us, do check out the title again to see what I mean.)

Google has recently announced that version 3.0 of its popular (or infamous?) Desktop Search software is out of beta, and is now under official public release. Along with this release is the new Quick Search Box, which basically brings up a search box when you press the Ctrl key twice.

The most important addition in version 3.0 is the cross-computer search, which lets users search for documents and content across ALL computers they own that have Desktop Search installed, and configured with their Google (or Gmail) username and password.

This is, in my opinion, a great feature for those who work across multiple computers (like me, for instance, with my laptop and desktop). Imagine that you’re at home, and you badly need the URL of a site you visited on your office computer. With Google Desktop Search, you can key in the search terms at home, and the software will display a list of documents or websites containing that term, including those visited or stored on the other computer.

Now what’s wrong with this? Of course, a cross-computer search is potentially a security risk, especially in corporate settings, where supposedly confidential or private files stored on employee computers could be indexed and searched from outside the office network.

The fear is so strong that some UK companies are banning the software, as ZDNet reports:

UK IT bosses are already taking measures to ban employees from downloading Google’s Desktop search software on PCs and laptops because of the security risk to corporate data.

Analyst Gartner last week warned that the ‘search across computers’ feature on the latest version of Google Desktop poses an “unacceptable risk” to many organizations because it allows people to share information and also stores some of that data on Google servers.

Of course, Google responds that the enterprise edition is free from such risks.

But the risks are still there, especially for individual users. Information freedom advocacy group EFF even warns against using the software.

“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.”

Yes, it’s creepy the way Google seems to be able to gather much information from us. But come on, I think they can do that already even without us having to install Google Desktop Search. At any rate, it’s a matter of choice. If the convenience outweighs the potential security risks, then go for Desktop Search. If you feel paranoid about it, well, then avoid it at all cost.

But do believe me when I say that you’re not really anonymous when you’re connected. And you’re not really safe from having your information snooped unless you take active measures against it (or go live in the mountains as a hermit for 20 years).

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