Google Admits Security Risks

Google has agreed with researchers that a controversial feature in its newly released Desktop 3 Beta app may create security concerns for businesses.

According to a Gartner research report, storing data on Google’s servers “will represent an unacceptable security risk to many enterprises.”

The Search Across Computers
feature of the beta version of Google Desktop 3, released earlier this month, enables users to seek out data stored on several
computers.

For the feature to operate, Google automatically transfers
data from a user’s computer to the Internet giant’s servers.

Gartner is advising companies to switch to Google Desktop for Enterprise
and “immediately disable this feature.” The “mere transport outside the
enterprise” of business data poses a security liability, according to
the analysis posted online.

Google has responded to security questions by noting the data is
encrypted, storage is limited to 30 days and users can decide which data
is shared.

The level of encryption used by Google Desktop 3 is on par with the
security of Web-based e-mail, a Google spokesperson told
internetnews.com. “Privacy was a big consideration” during the
development of Google Desktop 3.

Google Desktop for Enterprises is different from Google Desktop for
Consumers because of differing concerns, according to the spokesperson.
Businesses need the ability to centrally manage security.

That admission doesn’t seem to include consumer privacy, according to
Kevin Bankston, staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation
(EFF), a privacy watchdog group. “Like enterprises, consumers store
private data,” Bankston told internetnews.com.

“We’d like to see [Search Across Computers] removed” from Google
Desktop, Bankston said. Alternatively, Google could encrypt the data and
give the key only to consumers. As it is now, the data could be revealed
with a simple subpoena, according to Bankston.

In a related development, Google is insisting a Justice Department’s
subpoena for search records would damage user trust. The U.S. government
is asking for the records to prove a federal law is effective in
preventing minors’ access to harmful content.

“Google users trust that when they enter a search query into a Google
search box, not only will they receive back the most relevant results,
but that Google will keep private whatever information users communicate
absent a compelling reason,” according to papers filed in San Jose,
Calif., by company lawyers.

In addition to the trust factor, divulging a week’s worth of searches
could put the Internet company at a competitive disadvantage, according
to Google.

“Google’s competitors could use Google’s confidential query data to
manipulate their search engines to accommodate Web users and run queries
similar to Google’s, according to the papers. Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL
also received subpoenas.

The Justice Department has until Feb. 24 to respond to Google’s
answers. A March 24 court date is set for hearing the case brought by
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The American Civil Liberties
Union in 1998 filed suit, claiming the federal Child Online Protection
Act (COPA) is not as effective as filtering technology.

Although Bankston did not link the two privacy issues, it shows, for
Google, “there is a difference between protecting privacy and protecting
the allusion of privacy,” according to the lawyer.

Google also spent today rebuffing claims the Chinese version of its
popular Web search is operating without a license from that government.
After the Beijing News today reported Google.cn did not obtain an
Internet Content Provider (ICP) license required to operate in China,
Google replied it had the necessary license.

Although China prohibits Internet services directly run by foreign
investors, a number of companies, including Google, Yahoo and eBay, have
formed partnerships with local companies.

Google said it uses the
license from its China partner, Ganji.com. The license is shown at the
bottom of the screen at Google.cn.

Google has come under fire for its China search engine blocking links
to politically charged subjects, such as Tiananmen Square.

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