Keeping in mind that I do like Google, it seems many things that the company has done in the past year are encroaching boundaries of privacy issues and intellectual property rights. Eventually, this most likely will have their legal counsel spending months defending lawsuits.
Sometimes I wonder why other search engines feel a need to blindly follow Google’s maneuverings and adopt some form of competitive technology without looking at the intelligence of the programs. Most of the top search engines are now offering some type of desktop search tool, and as far as I’m aware Google’s is the most popular of these tools.
To see what the newest Google toy now does with my data, I downloaded and installed the Desktop Search 2 Beta Toolbar. First, Google demanded that it shut down basically every open program: Windows Messenger, Instant Messenger, FireFox, Word, and Outlook. Perhaps this is so that it can integrate itself with them. Afterwards, you can configure they tool for personal settings using the screen below.
Of the three options of how to display the tool, the sidebar has the most functionality. And although it offered to index my Gmail, I declined; search engines can give me information overload as it is, and throwing my 100,000s of e-mails into a search interface just doesn’t make me comfortable.
As the installation completed and the indexing of my hard drive started, I looked to my sidebar and found some nice user enhancements they added. It has a nice collection of information, clicking on items makes a popup slide out to the left to display more information. This even resembles the idea and features of the sidebar that Microsoft has been advocating for their upcoming Windows Vista. Unless Microsoft has much broader design plans, their new sidebar could be far less notable. This also goes head-to-head with Yahoo!’s newly purchased Konfabulator widgets, providing the same kinds of services (albeit less customizable).
Some of those services include weather for your local city and a stock indicator by default set to the Dow Jones Index (DJI). There is a “What’s Hot” tab, that shows you what news and searches are hot or trendy online. It is automatically generated, using multiple resources, to show what people are talking about online.
Because of privacy issues mentioned later in this article, Google could be using information gathered from Google Desktop users to provide this “What’s Hot” information. Data collected from user searches could both define what’s how and also show how well developed organic result pages are.
Some other useful features offered are what appears to be an RSS feed of Google News and Web Clips, which displays RSS updates of web pages I visit. For webmasters, this is a clear reason why you need to be able to export your site content via and RSS feed. RSS has many applications, and reaching Google Desktop is just the newest one. This is where true marketing can occur, allowing websites to convert sales using desktop information feeds; it has much lower costs and higher views than any other ad production.
There also is a Scratch Pad where you can type notes and they will be saved automatically for you. There is also a tab for your photos, which cycles through all photos on your PC. So, if you collect pornographic photos and share a home PC with your family, you may want to rethink any decision to download this nifty little Google application (unless you feel confident in beating the Google indexer to the block files). I think Google could do better with the photo feature by making each user on a computer could have the ability to customize it for themselves. An administrator feature for parents would go a long way in gainging the acceptance of the end user Google needs.
Finally, there is the Quick View. For me, this tab pushed me to uninstall the Google Desktop Search Tool 2. The very first file that Google indexed for me reads “secure.overture.com” which is where I log in to manage my clients’ Yahoo Overture Pay Per Click campaigns. I am not about to let Google see this, nor can I run the risk of this information being exposed online in any way. Another issue is I also manage Google Adwords campaigns for clients. I run more Adwords campaigns than Overture, and log into the My Client Center more often than Yahoo Overture. The trouble is that Google did not feel that this should be in my top three Quick Views. That has me wondering why not, and why Overture should be?
Even downloading the Desktop Search tool is a monumental step for me. Having been online now for twenty years, I have developed many sound thoughts about protecting myself online after having trusted some things a bit too much. When speaking to a potential client from Australia the other day, I had told him I felt we all had to suffer one online disaster as a rite of passage. I do not want this disaster to sound unavoidable, but sometimes we can invite problems in. I have had many “small disasters”—a few spyware programs, trojans galore, adware left & right, backdoor robots—but each of these were overcome. My biggest disaster was losing two years of client reports when my web host’s servers were confiscated by Federal Authorities from the reseller hosting company I was using. One bad apple destroyed 135 other innocent websites. So, please excuse me if I sound a little overly cautious about inviting in a web technology.
While installing the Google Desktop search tool I bumped into a warning from Google. This is not the usual modus operandi, so I read it very carefully.
What does Google Desktop do with the information on my computer?
So that you can easily search your computer, the Google Desktop application indexes and stores versions of your files and other computer activity, such as email, chats, and web history. These versions may also be mixed with your Web search results to produce results pages for you that integrate relevant content from your computer and information from the Web.
Your computer’s content is not made accessible through Google Desktop to Google without your explicit permission.
For more information about what Google Desktop can do, please see the Product FAQ.
So basically, if you use the Advanced Features, there is the possibility Google can use your computer’s Google Desktop index and activity reports. I didn’t see a clear way to tell Google it can or can’t access my computer, so how do I know it isn’t?
One major issue I have here is that Google indexes every file on your computer before you can control which ones it is using. Then if you do not want them to access certain files, you need to go back and takes steps to remove the content. This isn’t necessarily easy for everyone to do.
You can delete any item from Google Desktop’s index. Once you’ve removed an item from the index, it won’t show up in your Desktop search results ever again. The one exception is if you re-read an email in Outlook or Thunderbird, in which case it will get reindexed and added back to your search results.
But remember, you’re only deleting Google Desktop’s version(s) of the item. The current version is still in your computer, mailbox, or on its website. If you want to get rid of the original, live version of the item, you have to delete it from where it lives, the same as any file, email, or web page that Google Desktop doesn’t know about. If you delete the original, live version of an email, file, or web page, and there are copies of it in your Google Desktop cache, those copies will not be automatically deleted. To get rid of the cached copies as well, you’ll have to explicitly delete them from Google Desktop.
Google should rethink how the toolbar installs as I should be able to control the indexing before it happens and not have to go through extraneous steps afterward. You can also tell Google to exclude indexing certain directories, but this doesn’t help with Outlook email unless you want to exclude it all. And again, those directories will be indexed shortly after installation, and you need to change things afterwards.
This is something else that has me wondering how much is too much:
Your copy of Google Desktop includes a unique application number. When you install Google Desktop, this number and a message indicating whether the installation succeeded is sent back to Google so that we can make the software work better. Additionally, when Google Desktop automatically checks to see if a new version is available, the current version number and the unique application number are sent to Google. If you enable Advanced Features, this unique application number is included in the information sent to Google. The unique application number is required for Google Desktop to work and cannot be disabled.
Now, is this a good thing? I am not sure, they have me now like a tagged deer, don’t you think? We can all have little ear tags applied and allow Google to see our every move online. I wonder how happy they would be if I did all of my internet searches through Yahoo.
Okay so perhaps I am a bit paranoid, but I have always been an early adopter of many new technologies. I hounded my ISP when I knew they started offering DSL broadband (I am on them now for FIOS Service), and take pride in being first in for such toys. However, I think the Google Desktop is a sign of Google wanting to be everything to everyone. If you step back and think for just a moment about where Google has ventured and is headed, you can almost envision a world of Goog… a place where you buy a home from Google real estate, Google controls all the utilities to the home as well as cable, phone service, broadband, and your entertainment choices are all in your Desktop Toolbar. Wait till Google adds control for your washer and dryer into the sidebar.