From:         Bob Rankin 


The Internet Tourbus - U.S. Library of Congress ISSN #1094-2239
Copyright © Bob Rankin and Patrick Crispen - All rights reserved

I've gotten several emails recently from TOURBUS readers who are concerned over stories they've read about the Google search engine. Is Google punting your privacy, secretly stashing all your searches and selling your secrets to spooks? We'll take a look at this concern in today's issue of TOURBUS -- read on!


When you visit Google, a "cookie" is stored on your hard disk. Contrary to what you may have heard, there is nothing intrinsically evil about cookies. A cookie is just a string of text stored in a file on your computer. It's not software -- so it can't snoop around in your files or send salacious photos of Nina Tottenberg to everyone in your address book.

Cookies are most often used to make your web surfing more personal and convenient by remembering your preferences from one visit to the next. This can enable a website to serve up customized content based on your preferences, keep track of items in a shopping cart, or remember a login and password. Cookies can only be read back later by the site that created them, so you needn't worry about Website B peeking at the cookie that Website A created.

The Google cookie remembers your Google preferences, and contains an identifier that is unique to your computer. Daniel Brandt, founder of a group called Public Information Research thinks this is a Really Bad Thing. Brandt claims that the unique ID in the Google cookie, along with a user's IP address, could personally associate a specific individual with a stored list of Google searches. Why would Google want to do such a thing? According to Brandt:

> Matt Cutts, a key Google engineer, used to work for the National
> Security Agency. Google wants to hire more people with security
> clearances, so that they can peddle their corporate assets to the
> spooks in Washington.

So the mere fact that Google hired a former government employee makes them guilty of planning to sell their database of who-searches-for-what to "Washington spooks"? Sorry, but I fail to see the logic there.

Never mind that Google doesn't know your name or email address. And never mind that there is nothing personally identifying in an IP address. It's just a number your Internet Service Provider (ISP) assigns to your computer when you go online, so other computers on the Internet can communicate with yours. In most cases, the IP address is different each time you connect. Some service providers assign a static (non-changing) IP address to customers, but even so, only the ISP knows the identity of the user with that address.


So how will Google connect anonymous lists of "Some user with this IP address searched for X, Y and Z" with actual names of the searchers? Okay, they can't. But Mr. Brandt sees another way for Spooks Incorporated to get the lowdown on you.

> Authorities can do a "sneak and peek" search of a Google user's
> hard drive when he isn't home, retrieve a Google cookie ID, and
> then get a keyword search history from you for this ID.

Yup, they just break into your house, grab your cookies, and make a quick phone call to the friendly folks at Google...

CIA GUY: "Hi, this is Schmulder. How's the wife & kids? Hey, I'm inside this guy's house in Duluth. We think maybe he's up to something." GOOGLE : "Hey, we're here to help. Just gimme the ID from his cookie and we'll see if he's naughty or nice." CIA GUY: "Alrighty, let's see... (tappity tappity click tap) here it is. 3-FOX-952-CHARLIE-7301-BAKER-49" GOOGLE : Just a minute, here we go. Looks like he's been searching for a Chicken Lorraine recipe. Might have bought tickets to see Springsteen. Not much else here, sorry."

Sound likely to you? I'm not saying the things that trouble Mr. Brandt's sleep are impossible. But they do seem rather improbable. There is one comment on his website that DOES trouble me, though. Brandt says:

> Google is so important to the web these days, that it probably
> ought to be a public utility.

So putting Google under the control of the government will HELP to keep the spooks away from your search history??? Hmmmm. If you'd like to read more from Daniel Brandt and his concerns about Google, check out his Google Watch website:


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That's it for today. Have a safe and happy week, and we'll talk again soon.

The Internet Tourbus - U.S. Library of Congress ISSN #1094-2239
Copyright © Bob Rankin and Patrick Crispen - All rights reserved
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