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Google Desktop Search Under Fire 444

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the be-aware-people dept.
AchilleCB writes "Cnn and many other sources are jumping on the Google-privacy-bash bandwagon, they are carrying stories warning of more privacy implications regarding Google's Desktop Search, "if it's installed on computers at libraries and Internet cafes, users could unwittingly allow people who follow them on the PCs, for example, to see sensitive information in e-mails they've exchanged. That could mean revealed passwords, conversations with doctors, or viewed Web pages detailing online purchases." ... Type in "hotmail.com" and you'll get copies, or stored caches, of messages that previous users have seen. Enter an e-mail address and you can read all the messages sent to and from that address. Type "password" and get password reminders that were sent back via e-mail."
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Google Desktop Search Under Fire

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  • Security Diversion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stecoop (759508) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @02:54PM (#10591290) Journal
    warning of more privacy implications regarding Google's Desktop Search

    So the actual problem is that public computers aren't secure? Google Desktop Search doesn't do anything more than what a halfway good script kiddies can do. I say that all public computers install the software and plug the permissions problem on the OS. If everyone can SEE the insecurity then the users will either
    1. become aware
    2. find alternatives
    3. clamor to have the problem fixed
    4. Another law will be written (don't let it get to this).
      Choose one or proactively make a "none of the above choice" by doing something about it.
      PS we almost freaking died out here - it's been an over an 1 1/2 since the last story.
    • by Jucius Maximus (229128) <zyrbmf5j4x AT snkmail DOT com> on Thursday October 21, 2004 @02:55PM (#10591304) Homepage Journal
      Exactly. Google desktop search doesn't find anything that wasn't there before. It just is better at organising and mining it than a human being.
    • Slow news day. . .Its all on the OS. . .ALL ON THE OS. The os is what makes those files available for google search to find. By the way. . . maybe if the computers were cheaper people would put money into security. . .instead of spending it all on the cost of the PC.
      • so you're advocating cheaper PCs as the answer to the industries ills... you're the second person to do that tis week.

        You might be onto something.
      • [BLOCKQUOTE]. . . maybe if the computers were cheaper people would put money into security. . .instead of spending it all on the cost of the PC[/BLOCKQUOTE]

        No, but they wouldn't pirate [com.com] according to Steve Ballmer.
      • Price? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cbr2702 (750255) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:15PM (#10591571) Homepage
        By the way. . . maybe if the computers were cheaper people would put money into security. . .instead of spending it all on the cost of the PC.

        Computers are now at $400 [microcenter.com] . When computers were $1500, people had no money for security, and they still don't.

    • by antarctican (301636) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:00PM (#10591375) Homepage
      I wouldn't blame Google for this, I'd say Google has unwittingly discovered existing problems with shared computers and caching.

      From what I understand, Google's desktop only caches what's already on the machine's hard drive. So all this "sensitive information" that it's finding is already there for those who know how to find it, and take the time to.

      This is a wake up call for how much personal information is actually kept on our desktop machines.
      • by ViolentGreen (704134) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:36PM (#10591820)
        Very true. I've looked at the html for secure pages before and some used some kind of "nocache" tag or somthing like this. Is this common? If it is then this shouldn't be a huge worry.
        • by JimDabell (42870) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @04:09PM (#10592290) Homepage

          I've looked at the html for secure pages before and some used some kind of "nocache" tag or somthing like this.

          If it's in the HTML, you are talking about <meta> elements, and they are an unreliable substitution for proper HTTP headers.

          More importantly though, the nocache directive still permits clients and proxies to store a copy of the resource in their cache, so long as the copy is revalidated before being used again. The directive that should be used for sensitive data is nostore.

    • by RealProgrammer (723725) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:01PM (#10591390) Homepage Journal
      [...] If everyone can SEE the insecurity then the users will either
      1. become aware
      2. find alternatives
      3. clamor to have the problem fixed
      4. [...]

      The clamor will be, at best, "Make Google stop!"

      People who don't understand how things should be done are befuddled when confronted with the way they are done.

    • by lpp (115405) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:08PM (#10591473) Homepage Journal
      Why is this an OS issue? In Linux or OS X what's to stop me from writing a similar application? If I run the harvester part as a background process run as root (i.e. Administrator on Windows), I'll be able to grab everything. If the client is allowed to communicate with this daemon in order to pull up the information, I'll still see your stuff, unless you've encrypted it.

      But encryption is atypical as yet. And on a public terminal you aren't likely to be logging in as another user anyway, but rather as an unprivileged guest account. But then the harvesting and viewing could all happen without root/Administrator access.
      • by GoClick (775762) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:30PM (#10591751)
        A well set up system doesn't let you read other user's files. Even a well set up Win2k or XP machine won't let you do that.
        • by Pxtl (151020) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:36PM (#10591816) Homepage
          Question: how hard is it to make a "throw-away" login? That is, guest logs on, does his thing, logs off, all evidence of his existence is eradicated. Such a setup should be required for public kiosks. Under Linux or Windows, either way.

          Alternately, guest can make his own account with password really quickly, which will be destroyed with a month of inactivity. But that would be a frill.
          • by Durandal64 (658649)
            Not very. In OS X, you can set a login hook for a guest account which will reset the account to defaults. So if I put something in a public machine's guest user's ~/Documents folder, it would be gone as soon as I logged in as guest again. Same goes for the entire contents of ~/. All caches would go with it.
          • by Samhaine (726003)
            On NT based machines (yes, NT4 -> XP and Server 2003), you just have to set the user account up with a mandatory roaming profile (ntuser.man instead of ntuser.dat) Changes are not saved past the current login session, whether to the registry or the users profile file system.
    • by DunbarTheInept (764) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:09PM (#10591483) Homepage
      But you're forgetting the mentality of the average user.
      1 - I didn't notice X before.
      2 - I performed action Y.
      3 - Now I notice X.
      4 - Therefore Y must be the cause of X, regardless of what all those geeky pinhead types have to say about it. Don't they know the customer is always right?

      The end result will be the google gets blamed for exposing what was there all along, an nobody is going to let facts get in the way of their own personal perceptions.

    • by BrynM (217883) *
      As for GDesktop finding things in the web browser's cache - ANY kiosk web browser (library, coffee shop, etc.) should have the cache turned off or set at the absolute minimum. I set it to a token "100" on Firefox and IE. If the files aren't there, GDesktop can't index them. Funny that.
  • by Discotechnica (699121) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @02:55PM (#10591296)
    It's not google's fault that other programs leave data out in the open. The search tool does nothing a regular user couldn't do!
    • I agree. If you're sending sensitive information in email, it's your fault. If you're concerned about privacy and you're using a public computer, it's your fault.

      Google archives information. You gave it information.

  • Again? (Score:5, Informative)

    by whysanity (231556) * on Thursday October 21, 2004 @02:55PM (#10591297) Homepage Journal
    Didn't we already determine [slashdot.org] that Google [google.com] has stated Desktop Search [google.com] is not for use on multiple-user machines [google.com] and that you can always retrict domains, directories [google.com] and result types [google.com] from inclusion despite the fact that the files are still publically accessible [slashdot.org].
    • Re:Again? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rhsanborn (773855)
      Microsoft also states that for security you should disbale ActiveX. The government says you shouldn't smoke. Your parents warn you about strangers, and Santa Claus tells you to be nice.

      Just because people have been warned, doesn't mean that they will take the advice. Many, if not most, actually will ignore the advice because it is a hassle. Stories like these hopefully wake people up a bit. Unfortunately, the blame is placed on google unfairly.
    • by Ayanami Rei (621112) * <rayanamiNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:29PM (#10591739) Journal
      How is it possible the users can install ANYTHING (not just Google Desktop) on public internet terminals or in libraries?

      Seems to me focusing on the WRONG problem.
  • by Ummagumma (137757) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @02:55PM (#10591306) Journal
    ...google provides this tool, for personal use. Any libraries/public terminals that ALLOW the desktop search are the real problem here, not the desktop search agent itself.

    I've been using the desktop search for a week, and find it indispensible now. But, like any good, powerful tools, it can be misused, in a mis-configured enviornment.

    Basically, just watch where you surf on a PUBLIC machine. duh.
  • by francisew (611090) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @02:56PM (#10591315) Homepage

    Isn't it time that media start to put up opposition to services that compromise privacy in fundamental ways? I think this bandwagon is one that isn't so bad to have going on.

    Google does great things, but without such opposition, they might not keep all issues in proper perspective. The things they mention are very important.

    • Google does great things, but without such opposition, they might not keep all issues in proper perspective. The things they mention are very important.

      The problem is, though, that this isn't Google's fault. All they're really doing is drawing attention to a problem that previously existed anyway, and the media are now shooting the messenger.
    • I agree with the replies to my comment. Google isn't doing anything worse than what is already available.

      Does that mean that they should releaase a tool that has some serious privacy-invasion concerns?

      The fact that they are hugely popular, and that people might otherwise never realize the inherent privacy risk is exactly why I think it's good that this extra attention is being paid to google.

      ... and yes, I think IE vulnerabilities are terrible. I think people should switch to more secure browsers. But

    • Everything brought up by this tool is data that you are not cleaning up yourself after use. You ask if its time for the media to start putting up opposition to services that compromise privacy, I ask if its time for the media to start putting up opposition to those people who think its everyone elses job to protect their privacy. You are putting that data on the disks - into the public domain essentially, you are responsable for cleaning it up afterward, noone else. You expect noone to go through the wal
    • Isn't it time that media start to put up opposition to services that compromise privacy in fundamental ways?

      Yes, as long as they are commenting on the right services. For example, WHY are these machines setup in such a way as to allow this private information to be stored in the first place?

      Google Desktop is the messenger.
  • Oh come on (Score:5, Insightful)

    by savagedome (742194) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @02:57PM (#10591327)
    First of all, GDS does not bypass security or username/passwords. These files are accessible via the IE cache using Windows Explorer anyway. The index is stored in %USERPROFILE%\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Google Desktop Search

    Plus, why are these people have rights to install GDS on library computers? The libraries need to take notice by using a policy control to begin with.

    Its a GOOGLE DESKTOP SEARCH tool. It says SEARCH in a screaming font. If that doesn't ring these people's bells, then they need to buy hi-fidelity headphones that are used by chronic deaf.

    Blaming the kinfe company when the kid cut itself playing with the knife.
  • by Manip (656104) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @02:58PM (#10591337)
    So if I have user rights on public computers to install software for all users and store large data stores of cached information that is accessible to everyone it would be very simple to exploit that in order to install way more effective spying software such as keyloggers, remote monitoring software and other such software.

    Notice people that write this software are the same group that use clippy to help them use Word and the same people that think anti-virus means complete security. Nuff Said!

    This obvious fear mungering on the part of the media. Clueless as always.
  • Its a beta! (Score:3, Informative)

    by dj245 (732906) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @02:58PM (#10591338) Homepage
    Sheesh, I'm sure it will go through many more revisions before the thing is actually released as final. Where are these muckrakers when the legislature and the president pass laws that invade privacy?
  • by Kiaser Zohsay (20134) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @02:58PM (#10591342)
    ...it becomes easier to see the "security through obscurity" really doesn't work. It's not that a desktop search compromises security, it's that the security wasn't there in the first place.
  • by aidoneus (74503) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @02:59PM (#10591357) Journal
    It's not as if Google didn't document this [google.com]. If you're installing this on a public system without any real form of user access control, then you're asking for trouble. Google desktop doesn't do anything that an end-user wouldn't be able to do with a little cache snooping and looking in temp files. Really, Google Desktop doesn't belong on this open of a type of system, and in addition one really shouldn't be using such an insecure system for anything very sensitive.

    Maybe Google just needs to make the warning a bit more obvious, like a hug "WARNING: Google desktop allows you to search all files on this computer" or something.

    -jason
  • ... the whole email argument is stupid as far is internet cafe's and libraries are concerned. I mean, come on. Do you honestly setup an email client for your ISP, download mail to a PUBLIC system, and then LEAVE IT THERE!!! If you want to argue about privacy concerns, argue about something that really breaches your privacy. These attacks on the desktop search are really pissing me off lately. Oh, and for those who who check their hotmail and yahoo or whatever, clear the bloody cache if the systems are setup
  • by scribblej (195445) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:00PM (#10591372)
    Hey, that stuff is there whether you use Google to show it to you or not. I say we thank our Google Overlords for showing the masses how stupid it is to read e-mail or get passwords on a public terminal.
  • Nothing new here except that Google has all of a sudden made it easier to look up "private" information that is locally cached. The data is already there for someone who knows what to look at, after all, but now Google's made it easy to access. How is this different from typing something into the address bar of a browser and being presented with an "interesting" list of choices that were stored via the browser's autocomplete functionality?

    Eric
    Read a bit of Vioxx humor [ericgiguere.com]
  • When Google first announced this, the Google-fanboy in me said, "sweet, another computer thing improved by Google!" But I read a couple of the detractor's articles and realized that there are some things on a PC I just wouldn't want to share with others. While this is fine on my personal, one-man home computer, I wouldn't want to use a public computer with the Google Desktop installed.

    What really gets me is the Slashdot response. If Microsoft had released similar search feature, it would be one more na

    • by savagedome (742194) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:14PM (#10591558)
      You are blaming the violet light maker when it finds those 'stains' on your bed sheet. The stains were already there. You just didn't know and now you are pissed that everybody found out!
      • Let me clarify. I'm fine with violet light as long as I know when it's being utilized. I'm not such a big fan when someone else is wielding it beyond my control. That's why Google Desktop is a great tool for a single-user, home computer and a privacy concern on multi-user, public computers.

    • by Jerf (17166)
      If Microsoft had released similar search feature, it would be one more nail in the coffin of poor security, no matter what user advisories they had given.

      Microsoft has released a similar feature. You've been able to find files by a string in the contents for a long time now. Not only is it not "a nail in the coffin of poor security", it is completely unnoticed in this entire fracas. Yes, the implementation sucks (and it seems like I've never gotten it to work right in XP), but it is there and I am yet to
    • If Microsoft had released similar search feature, it would be one more nail in the coffin of poor security, no matter what user advisories they had given.

      If Microsoft had produced this search feature, it would probably be integrated into Windows, turned on by default, and difficult to disable. If Microsoft produced something like this, where you would go to msn.com and download the MSN Desktop Search Wizard which sits noticably in your system tray and can easily be disabled/uninstalled, I doubt there wo
  • Google Desktop is making available to people information that they don't realize is already being stored on computers. Before Google Desktop you might leave a public PC and think you've safely logged out. Now you can ue Google Desktop to discover how much sensitive information you've actually left behind and do something about it.
  • Public Computers? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lcde (575627) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:02PM (#10591407) Homepage
    Wah. Don't install it on public computers. They don't need to search through files anyways.

  • by Texodore (56174) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:02PM (#10591409)
    What is someone going to find if they install this on a library computer? livejournal.com pages? Orlando Bloom pictures? Lyrics to an Eminem CD? chat sessions with pinkkitty5555?
  • The idea of insecurities on public machines is not new. Obviously. However, these insecurities are made much more user friendly by the Desktop Search. It used to be script kiddies that could crack the cafe or library computers, now it seems it could be many people. I think the media is right to raise this issue and people should be wary of the Desktop Search on public terminals

    That said...

    Can anyone think of why the Desktop Search app would be installed on a library public terminal or internet cafe
  • Intent (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Traa (158207) * on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:06PM (#10591448) Homepage Journal
    Some considerations:

    In favor of google: I do think they had the intent on creating a usefull tool.

    In favor of google: As far as I know, all the information that their desktop search tool exposes can be found in simular ways using a veriety of tools including MS windows own 'find-in-files' search options. In other words, their desktop search tool doesn't go out and break user-protected barriers.

    Against Google: Just because your intent is honerable doesn't mean you can ignore privacy concerns.

    Against the media (CNN, et.al): No integrity to be found for a while now! Just plain bashing, advertising, manipulating, money-making propaganda.

    my $0.02
    • Re:Intent (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)
      Incidentally, on both Windows 2000 and XP your cache files are stored in your Profile directory, which is not world-readable. Does google search allow you to retrieve documents to which you do not have permission? I don't think so. I installed it but I haven't even used it so I don't know what it shows in summaries... how much of the document is indexed?
  • This is silly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tarnin (639523) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:06PM (#10591453)
    How much privacy before or after usage of a system in a public place do these people think they actually get? They are public, not your home system.

    Also, who would be sending private emails or requestion passwords via a public terminal and not know that this info could be seen after weither the Google utility is installed or not.

    I'm called Overhype on this.
  • how is it... (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by CAIMLAS (41445)
    how is it that mass media gets their balls twisted in a knot over something they don't understand when it involves an up-and-coming company with good practices, but when it comes to international politics, they like to walk on by the heinous deeds?
  • by anorlunda (311253) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:12PM (#10591531) Homepage
    Wait! If we don't search for every private bit of information on public computers, then we could be accused of missing potential advanced warning of the next 911 terrorist plot.

    The Google engine should be required under The Patriot Act to forward everything that it finds on every public computer to Homeland Security at connectthedots.gov

    Defensive measures such as logout and flushing the cache are acts of terrorism. :)
  • ..because they are, well, public and whoever trusts them needs to have his head examined.

    However, I would like to have complete access/understanding to what data the GDS sends back to the mothership. I unchecked that little box but when I search for something on google.com it brings the results from the local search as well so there is lots of data sent up.

  • by stephanruby (542433) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:17PM (#10591597)
    If your library allows you to install executables on your own or allows you to change some of the privacy internet browser settings, then this risk is already there.

    The point is that all the libraries I've been into don't allow you to do any of those things, otherwise they would already be infested with spyware and trojans, and I doubt that those same libraries would be stupid enough to install this google desktop search without knowing what it does. And it's the same with Kinkos, Kinkos actually allows you to install some stuff on there, but they reimage the drive every time a new user goes on there (but unlike what the story seems to suggest, Kinko has been doing this for years -- long before Google even became an household name).

    This is a non-issue. This is just a newspaper troll who's taken the issue of the day and combined it with the hottest brand of the day, nothing more.

  • ...you guys would be all up in arms.

    But it's Google, therefore, they couldn't POSSIBLY do any wrong, huh?

    When this was first posted a few days ago, someone actually made the comment, "What do I care if it bypasses security? I'm the only one in my house using the computer." Yeah, great thinking there.

    Yet the same guy would say, if this was Microsoft, "No wonder their shit sucks, they totally bypass all permissions!"

    Weee little hypocrites.
  • Search for files or folders named: *.* Containing text: password How is this any different?
    • Search for files or folders named: *.* Containing text: password How is this any different?

      Well, Windows search would take about 35 minutes to return results. (Get to watch the search dog, or paperclip, tho!)

      GDS - about a tenth of a second.

      People suck.
  • by jbarr (2233) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:17PM (#10591610) Homepage
    First off, after using it for several days, I realized that I do NOT want GDS caching my Web activity. I certainly don't have anything to hide in my surfing at work, but to me, GDS's incredible usefulness comes in being able to VERY EASILY AND QUICKLY search for data WITHIN documents currently stored on my PC. This is proving to be an invaluable tool at work.

    Anyway, as for being installed on public PC's, the problem is not Google's, but those who permit the application to be installed on a public PC in the first place. Any PC administrator who permits user-installable applications in a public environment is asking for problems, headaches, and potential litigation.

    Let's just hope this news doesn't get spun wrong and opens people's eyes to security...
  • I wrote up a review on my blog and ran into this problem in the process of putting the software through it's paces. I found that searching for my wive's name produced a number of cached web mail pages, some containing entire email conversations.

    On my home machine my wife and I have different accounts, but in general I've only locked down file system access by making files read-only. So I guess you could say that this is not a problem with GDS, but with my security settings. I could have read her emails
  • by lildogie (54998) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:21PM (#10591656)
    As a geekly laptop owner, I can take my relatively-secure internet access with me.

    But travellers that don't have laptops, travellers who've lost their laptops, and people who don't own computers, are going to find internet access more and more essential as time goes by.

    It would be good if there were some way to have secure public terminals, that people could get onto the internet and be reasonably assured that their access is private.

    I realize that iron-clad security isn't possible, but if it could rise to at least the security of ATMs (I say this knowing that ATMs have vulnerabilities) then I think the internet would be a better public resource.
  • by Mustang Matt (133426) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:22PM (#10591664)
    I'm not trying to troll here but I think this is a perfect example of how linux has a huge advantage over windows being that it's truly account oriented. Windows is moving that direction but files aren't protected between users in any way.

    Google Desktop is doing exactly what it's programmed to do. The insecurity is in the way Windows has no seperation between users.

    If there was a Google desktop for linux it would only be indexing the logged in users information and it would be readable/seachable only by that user (and root of course).

    I understand the concern and I would say that google desktop doesn't belong on public terminals. I mean is there any situation where public terminals should have files to be searched on them anyway?
    • Windows is moving that direction but files aren't protected between users in any way.

      That's a bunch of BS. Profile directories have permissions set so that only that user, Administrators, and the system (SYSTEM account = OS) can read it. This is by default, without any user intervention. User-specific data includes user documents, the HKEY_CURRENT_USER registry tree, and Internet cache among other things.

      What I'm assuming is happening with Google Desktop is that it's running as a service when indexing,

  • ...is like complaining about General Electric's light bulbs when they show you the termites which are eating your house from the foundation up.

    Google Desktop Search is highlighting problems in Windows' Security, which is that there is none. This is good for Google in the long run on two fronts. It puts Microsoft on the defensive, as this is another issue that Microsoft will ultimately need to solve in security ahead of implementing new features. This gives Google the time to go on the offensive implementing new products for customers that are technically excellent and do not have the cooked in problems of Microsoft Software.

  • by khendron (225184) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:25PM (#10591699) Homepage
    My big problem with Google Desktop Search is not the privacy issues, but the fact that it indexes all my email. By that I mean ALL my email, including spam. It is rather annoying to perform an seemingly innocent search and get the first hit being "Bu|y V|agra , Us|e you|r B|G D|CK!" Especially if my manager is looking over my shoulder.
  • Why jump on this? Seems to me the voting machines are far more of a problem with their Jet databases just crying out to be compromised.

    I smell Microsoft cash somewhere in this mix.
  • If Google search is finding things that are already stored on the hard drive, you can't blame Google search. Depending on evil people not finding things that are right there for them to see is security through obscurity.

    Any web sites containing sensitive information should use SSL, which is not cached anywhere. SSL is free and widely supported. There is no excuse not to use it.

  • Stupid Humans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by turnage (543637) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @03:59PM (#10592151) Homepage

    Ok, you guys are amazing. Let's put this into context. Microsoft comes out with this great tool called ActiveX. It allows all kinds of wonderful things to happen, especially rich content in emails. Uh-oh, someone finds out that this technology is a great way to F around with folks' email since it's so integrated in Outlook (just using Outlook as an example, won't even go there with Windows). Bad, M$, no bone. Nevermind the users who don't know to simply turn off active scripting, they're not the problem - it's Microsoft - since software manufacturers should understand that all users are dumb. Enter Google. All data that's currently on the PC is presented in a highly searchable manner, even to people who have no idea about privacy issues involving electronic data. Stupid users, you shouldn't put such data there, don't you know how every application you've ever used persists data? It's obviously not Google's fault you're so stupid.

    Allow me to describe for you living-in-yo-mamas-basement geeks how 6 billion people operate:

    The average user has no idea of the security implications of simply going to a public computer and using the facilities provided for them.

    If they've ever bought a computer before, they did not buy it from a store with a sales rep that gave them a book listing out every privacy/security vulnerability in the OS installed on it, and if they did they didn't read it. They may have never even talked to anyone knowledgeable about it.

    Average users don't have conversations with geeks, sitting around talking about why M$ fscking sucks today and how 3l337 they are or how they 0wn3d U or whatever the hell they say. Average users have conversations with other average users about sports and knitting.

    It is doubtful the user has a college degree in computer science, engineering, or even went to a technical school.

    Not every kiddie is a script kiddie. I would venture to say most kids who use a library aren't script kiddies - script kiddies have computers at home. If you don't believe me, go to any public library with computers in south Atlanta and ask if their parents own a computer.

    In a perfect world, it would be awesome if everyone understood the problems with computer privacy, but we have to deal with all those fucking ignorant lusers who don't read slashdot every hour. If Google doesn't understand this, rest assured they will be hounded by privacy counsils until they learn.

    Ok, off do to some google credit card searches ;)

  • by nwbvt (768631) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @04:15PM (#10592355)
    You are constantly being forced to decide between privacy vs functionality. I can give out my email address to other people and thus increase the functionality of my email, but at the time I am sacrificing some degree of privacy.

    In this case you are sacrificing 'privacy' (if you want to call having information hidden away in some part of the file system that most users don't know about privacy) for the ability to quickly find things. If you think that is a worth sacrifice, by all means install the program. Otherwise, keep it off your computer.

    As far as public computers go, well you shouldn't be accessing sensitive data on a public computer in the first place! Its easy to tell if google's desktop search thing is running, its not so easy to tell if someone installed a virus that is recording your every keystroke.

  • by almaw (444279) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @05:55PM (#10593250) Homepage
    If you let people install things on public PCs then as a sysadmin you deserve to be shot.

    At the very least, you will end up reinstalling Windows every week as the system drowns in a mire of spyware and viruses.

    In addition, why would anyone on a public PC want to install this? They'd only do it to look at other people's files. And if they want to do that, then why not go the whole hog and install a keystroke logger instead? Why bother looking through the windows when you can steal the keys?

    Nothing to see here, move along...
  • by Slavinski (713970) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @06:09PM (#10593405)

    Although I don't care for the desktop search utility,
    it's hardly a valid complaint for privacy at a public
    facility. It just means the average Joe can now find what most
    with any limited knowledge of Windows can already see.

    This is hardly worthy of news. It should be titled "Using Public Computers
    Leaves Users Open."
  • by jbash (784046) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @06:16PM (#10593483)
    Go to zonealarm.com

    Download and install their free program.

    Then feel free to install the Google Desktop Search. Although the program tried to access the Internet, Zonealarm blocked it. Presto chango, problem solved and now I have an awesome desktop search on my computer which cannot spy on me.

  • by johansalk (818687) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @08:37PM (#10594327)

    I am truly sick and tired of all those comments that get moderated as high whenever there's a google story and all seemingly are defensive of google regardless of what.

    Let's face it. Google's practices towards privacy have been far from holy and way too intrusive. In fact, they've had an AWFUL record by any objective account. This invitation-only model of builcing up demand for their services as in orkut and gmail is ludicrous; it's such a cheap trick, the scarcity principle, and I can't believe how stuipdly the masses are falling for it, that once they get an orkut or gmail account they'll willingly do anything. Have you filled up an orkut form? pages and pages of information collected, NEVER seen anyone online who wants so much information about someone. The privacy conerns about gmail are also legitimate. It doesn't require you to tell them your life story by filling forms before you can use the service but who needs that when they got your email and can and do scan them. This whole beta excuse is pure BS; Google News has been beta for 3 years now! I have downloaded Google desktop search, but decided not to install it seeing how I already had software solutions that did more and better and without the privacy compromises I would have to make.

    Dare anyone mod me down as troll or flamebait on this post and it'd be so much evidence of how sucked up into it many of you are.

  • by j.leidner (642936) <leidner AT acm DOT org> on Thursday October 21, 2004 @10:49PM (#10595040) Homepage Journal
    There are the following individual problems, which should not be bagged together, since they require different solutions:

    1) The current tool runs with Administrator permissions.

    This is simply a tiny technical oddity that Google will soon be able to fix.

    2) The current tool indexes cache content.

    We users don't want that. Even if the fact that it merely exposes underlying OS or app security flaws (by virtue of the power of indexing), it's not likely to impress users if Google brings these things up as search results.

    This can be easily fixed by excluding cached content from indexing.

    3) Search might move in a direction where global repositories and Web content are accessed using the same query.

    This is tough: because it's such a useful feature, many people will want to have it. However, by submitting all your local searches in parallel also to a global search engine that maintains knowledge about your IP and a cookie, Google will soon more about you than your next to kin. This needs a theoretical solution (most likely there needs to be an intermediate layer of anonymization, like Freenet has it).

    4) Google might be transferring "interesting" local content they find to their site to spy on you.

    I don't believe they do this now, but that doesn't matter. The problem is they might in the future: imagine a fictional country passed a law that allowed their agents to get access to Google's infrastructure to fight a made-up enemy.... Right now, you have to TRUST them, but nobody monitors this in a principled way, so there should be a well-found mechanism in place to render potential temptations meaningless. Freedom is at stake here.

    5) Even if you index only your own account, you don't want to see everything all the time. When you're being watched by your nine-year old boy, a search for mum shouldn't perhaps bring up and email revealing somebody close to him will probably die from cancer within 6 months. There are more examples.

    This is tough, and it's a conceptual HCI issue, and a social one, not a technical security flaw. One solution could be to introduce a MODE to indicate the privacy/trust level of your context/environment, e.g. "I'm working alone at home", "I'm working in a group of colleagues in my company", "I'm on a public terminal in a busy shopping mall" (some people access their home machines remotely). The problem is somewhat related to watching other people type their passwords: it's always been part of hacker etiquette to look away when somebody logs on to a machine rather than stare on their fingers and take pencil notes. But the search issue is more complex, and there really needs to be a mechanism in place, not a social norm.

    In summary, the Google desktop search tool is useful, because it forces us to re-think security and privacy as boundaries between local and global systems are blurred. After all, the network is the computer.

    --
    Try Nuggets [mynuggets.net], our mobile search engine. Ask questions in plain English via SMS, across the UK.

  • Is this a joke? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sigma 7 (266129) on Thursday October 21, 2004 @10:49PM (#10595042)
    "if it's installed on computers at libraries and Internet cafes, users could unwittingly allow people who follow them on the PCs,
    If it's somehow installed on library or Internet cafes, then it means the security of the compter has been compromised. Either someone is trying to make a very big joke, or they are too paranoid.

    Besides, these problems are easily countered through one of many methods (some of which are exclusive with some other options):
    1. Regular security audits (e.g. after the library or cafe closes.) You may need specialized software to automate the process, but you should at the very least be checking the computers to see if they are okay.
    2. User account restrictions. In most cases, security breaches occurr because the user somehow got hold of local administrator prvilages - this should be prevented when possible.
    3. Public monitering. You generally want most computers within public view. For the computers that have a privacy screen, you should give a priority audit. While this doesn't preevnt intrusions, it does deter some and otherwise make things easier to detect by a random bystander.
    4. Hard drive images. If a machine is suspected to be compromized, restore it from an image.
    5. DeepFreeze. Pressing the reset button restores the computer to a usable state. You can even give users permission to install software without worries either under this option (but be careful not to give permissions to change user accounts or configure the network.)

    The sky is not falling. As long as Chicken Little doesn't create enough panic to get all the barnyard animals to the fox's den, we are safe.

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