Privacy fear as Google plans ‘super database’

Posted: August 4, 2008 in 2006, 2007, Articles
Tags: , ,

JOHN INNES / Scotsman | March 8 2006

GOOGLE, the internet giant, is planning a massive online facility that could store copies of users’ hard drives – a move set to spark alarm among civil liberties campaigners.

Plans for the “GDrive”, previously the subject of rumour among computer experts, were revealed accidentally after notes in a slideshow were wrongly published on Google’s site.

The device would create a mirror image of data stored on consumers’ computer hard drives, letting users search data stored on other computers via Google accounts.

While offering more convenient access to data, the service will stoke debate about the dangers of storing so much personal data on Google systems. Google recently squared up against the United States Justice Department, which has subpoenaed a limited set of data on Google search habits, drawing an outcry from privacy advocates.

In the presentation notes, the chief executive, Eric Schmidt, made a cryptic comment that one goal of Google was to “store 100 per cent” of consumer information”.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on any specific service, but confirmed that the presentation containing the notes had been mistakenly released on the internet. “We deleted the slide notes because they were not intended for publication,” she said.

“We are constantly working on ways to enhance our products and services for users, but have nothing to announce at this time.”

The new service could save computer users from loss of data by keeping a “golden copy” on Google’s centralised computers. However, the plan could be thwarted by privacy concerns.

Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocate, issued a similarly stern warning to consumers to not use such facilities because it would reduce their level of privacy protection.

Google has been at the centre of privacy row in the United States. Last August, Google rejected US government efforts to access its search logs to prop up a contested 1998 law designed to protect minors from objectionable material on the internet.

Microsoft, Yahoo, and America Online have all since admitted that they have provided the government with some of that data from their logs.

The revelations triggered a privacy rights row in Washington that has placed the administration of the president, George Bush, on the defensive and has sparked at least two investigations in Congress.

UPDATE

http://blogoscoped.com/archive/2007-09-04-n51.html

Evidence of GDrive in Google Apps
By Tony Ruscoe

Rumors of an online storage solution from Google have been circulating for years. These rumors became stronger in July last year when references to Platypus and GDrive were accidentally made available on the writely.com domain. A few months later, Google’s internal Platypus client was leaked and people started to question whether GDrive would ever be made available publicly – especially when it was suggested recently that the GDrive release may have been delayed or canceled.

Earlier today, I stumbled across some more evidence which may further support rumors that GDrive will be made available publicly, possibly as part of Google Apps, though it could just mean that Google uses GDrive internally as part of Google Apps.

Anyone familiar with my previous Google-digging will know that I try to keep track of Google service names used by both Google Accounts and Google Apps. By changing query string parameters on various pages, it’s possible to get a glimpse into what Google might be working on. Many of the service code names I’ve discovered in the past have been released several months or years later, while others are still unreleased or remain to be a complete mystery.

What I discovered today was that Google Apps accounts allow you to change the query string parameter on the page where you can disable services. By changing the “service” parameter, I was given the option to disable GDrive on my account (even though it wasn’t currently enabled):

For anyone with their own Google Apps domain, you can try the following URL after replacing “example.com” with your own domain and signing in:

https://www.google.com/a/cpanel/example.com/DisableService?service=www10

(Note: This also works for YouTube – service=youtube – and Google Video – service=videoonline – even though those services aren’t readily available to Google Apps accounts.)

In May this year, after being redirected from www10.google.com and prompted to sign in to a service called WWW10, I asked on my blog, “What is Google WWW10?” Upon further inspection, visiting www10.google.com tries to set the following cookie in the 302 response header:

PlatypusData=EXPIRED;Path=/;Expires=Mon, 01-Jan-1990 00:00:00 GMT

So what does this mean exactly? I guess it means that the mysterious WWW10 service is likely to be GDrive or Platypus and that it’s possibly going to be available to Google Apps users. Of course, we shouldn’t forget that Google uses Google Apps themselves, so it’s also possible that GDrive is only enabled for the google.com Google Apps account and is only meant to be used internally.

Of course, it could also mean that we’re one more step closer to GDrive being released to everyone…

Update: It seems that www10.google.com no longer tries to set this cookie or redirect to the WWW10 login page. Is Google trying to hide something? [Thanks Luka!]

Update 2: And now Google has disabled the “DisableService” page for all services that you can’t yet add to your Google Apps account – which includes ah, cf, fensi, jotspot, sitemaps, videoonline, voice, www10 and youtube. The “DisableService” page does, however, still appear for the other services even if you have not yet added them to your account.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Thank you for the nice post. I am expecting some different ideas from your side. You always present some fresh thoughts in your posts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s