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Google Desktop 3: Convenience vs. Privacy
Author: Brian Anderson
Source: Google
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Google Desktop 3:  Convenience vs. Privacy
February 24, 2006

Data Storage? Where and How Long?

Next up to consider is exactly what happens to the files that are uploaded to Google's servers? Exactly WHERE are the servers? Are they all located in the Mountain View, California location? Most likely not, most likely they are stored in various locations throughout the world. Especially if you're a non-US user. So again you need to be able to understand where the files are stored, and what are the data disclosure rights in those locations? Also, what are your rights to legal action should your files be used without your permission?

Google says they will store your files on their servers for up to 30 days. Then they can delete them. Do they? I would bet it depends on how many times the file has been accessed, and how much storage space is being used. Also, HOW do they delete them? As anyone who has ever been a computer or security professional knows, when you just delete a file it's not gone. The delete only marks the space on the storage media (hard drives) to be able to be used by the operating system if it needs it later. However, all the information is still there and can be easily obtained by both free and professional data recovery tools. Heck, many operating systems have an undelete feature that can recover the data. So when they delete it, is it really gone? I don't know, do you?

The other question that I don't see answered is regarding backups. Does Google backup the servers that your files are stored on? Backing up servers is considered a general best practice. So it would be safe to assume Google does back up the servers. However, do they actually back up your files? Maybe, maybe not. I don't know. But because I don't know I have to operate on the assumption that they do back up the files. So this then brings up more questions... "How long do they keep the backups for?" "Who has access to the backups?" and "Where are the backups kept?" Unfortunately I can't find the answer to ANY of those questions, so I don't know the answers. Do you? If you don't, can you be sure of what is happening with your files once they are on Google's servers? I can't, so therefore I have to assume the worst, which is that they are in fact backing up any files that Google Desktop uploads to their servers, they keep the backups forever, and store them in a filing cabinet in their lobby which they give free copies to pan handlers and anyone else that walks by their offices. ACK! Granted, I seriously doubt this is what Google is doing, but without more information I have to assume worst case (and it doesn't get much worse than that). From there I have to figure if the convenience is worth the risk. I'm betting you already know my answer.

Does Google Value my Privacy?

One would hope that Google holds our privacy and personal information with the same high regard that we do. After all, they have spent countless dollars to have lawyers write up privacy policies right? I am also sure that those lawyers had MY best interests in mind when they wrote those privacy polices (ok sarcasm is a little hard to convey in a written piece like this, so let me just state... that was a sarcastic statement).Let me share with you a little quote that came from Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience "We think this will be a very useful tool, but you will have to give up some of your privacy", "For many of us, that trade off will make a lot of sense." Via a CNN article on Google Desktop.

Glad to know that Google thinks it's ok to give up some of your privacy, and that they think the trade off will make a lot of sense. I bet thoughts similar to that are what brought about things like the American constitution, and our bill of rights (once again... sarcasm is hard to convey like this).

I know, you're thinking "But didn't Google just recently tell the DOJ (Department of Justice) to go away, we're not sharing our search info with you!?" And this is true, they did. But one must ask "Why did they do that?" what really was their motive? While I can't be sure, I bet it was for both publicity; "Look at us, we are the protector of your information... We are the good guy!!" as well as a ploy to draw attention from the fact that every day Google collets tons of information from its users, and shares that information with advertisers. Granted it probably doesn't contain any information that points the information they share directly to you, but I'm also willing to bet the information that would have been shared with the DOJ wouldn't have either. What they do with information just depends on exactly what the benefit to Google is (this applies to almost every company out there, so I am not explicitly saying Google is the only company that acts like this).

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