Google Desktop 3.0: Privacy is Dead(er)

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Google is launching a new version (3.0) of their Desktop Search product, possibly tonight.

The biggest change is the option to store your hard drive index on Google’s servers instead of locally on your own computer. This allows searches from a remote computer (such as a work computer). This is of course a touchy privacy subject, but the ability to search from a remote computer will be very welcome by some users.

While Google has not yet released v 3.0, they are making significant changes to policies on their desktop which previously stated that hard drive data would never be stored on Google Servers.

Compare this new language talking about searching across computers to this old language stating that “these combined results can be seen only from your own computer; your computer’s content is never sent to Google (or anyone else).”. Look for the second link to be updated soon.

The new feature, called “Search Across Computers” stores file content on Google servers.

In order to share your indexed files between your computers, we first copy this content to Google Desktop servers located at Google. This is necessary, for example, if one of your computers is turned off or otherwise offline when new or updated items are indexed on another of your machines. We store this data temporarily on Google Desktop servers and automatically delete older flies, and your data is never accessible by anyone doing a Google search.

Search Across Computers is optional and only works with certain types of files:

  • Web history (from Internet Explorer, Firefox, Netscape, and Mozilla)
  • Microsoft Word documents
  • Microsoft Excel spreadsheets
  • Microsoft PowerPoint presentations
  • PDF files and Text files in My Documents

Look for an announcement on Google’s Desktop Search Blog.

Yahoo and MSN, which have competing products at desktop.yahoo.com and desktop.msn.com, store users’ hard drive index only locally.

For additional commentary, listen to Steve and I debate the issue on a new Gillmor Daily, just posted here.

UPDATE: Google has announced this.

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