October 16, 2004

GoogleZilla: Google Desktop 2.0 (Coming Attractions)

The fastest replicating virus infecting the Windows machines of the world this week had to be Google Desktop. Millions asked for it and millions got it. After all, it is free. Now. But in the future, it just might cost you some information if you want to get "enhanced functionality." And who doesn't want their functionality enhanced?

Paolo Massa has seen the next step and, well, it is interesting to contemplate:

When millions of users will have Desktop.google.com installed, Google will simply release a new version in which the user can check a box and say "Share the files in my disk" (maybe only files in a certain directory). This will create in a second an enormous P2P (peer-to-peer) network, in which you can search for files directly on other users' disks. What do you think? Make sense?
-- Paolo Massa Blog: Enormous P2P Network by Google
Oh, it makes sense. Much too much sense and it will add to the already amazing list of "What Google knows about you." [Take a moment to look at that link, also by Massa, and think about it.]

Back at the beginning of the 1990s, when I was employee #2 at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (and the web was the HTML/HTTP protocols slumbering on Berners-Lee's server at CERN), we fretted endlessly over the FBI/CIA/NSA/LLE snapping up your computer, getting a backdoor key to your ISP, having a secret decoder right for any cryptography that could be invented, and generally getting to your private information. That fretting continues today at numerous and multiple nodes across the web. It is a fretting only out-fretted by Spamfret. The EFF and other well-meaning wonk tanks in search of the Fountain of Funding continue to harvest planks from this petrified forest.

But nature always sides with the hidden flaw and the hidden flaw in this case was the users. It never, in our wildest speculations, dawned on us that the most potent and persistent threat to privacy on the Net would be the users themselves. If any of us had proposed at the beginning of the 90s that millions upon millions would give away the vast amount of information listed above to a company in exchange for a few chunks of code, we would have been barred from the next House/Senate sub-sub-committee on POTS subsidies to Podunk.

And yet, here we are. Big Brother in the form of a "Do no evil" company whose "benign" intentions are taken utterly on faith and without question by every connected soul on the planet.

Does anyone remember when Microsoft became the evil empire? It was at a point that was well below the position of ubiquity now enjoyed by Google. The result for Microsoft has been an unremitting stream of lawsuits and regulations extending well over a decade with no end in sight.

Can anyone imagine the same thing happening to Google? Perhaps, but only if a hard look at Google's plans and potential begins in the very near future.

Another couple of years and it will be well-nigh impossible. Why? Google will quite simply know too much.

Posted by Vanderleun at October 16, 2004 10:35 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

infact i was pondering/wondering: suppose google goes bankrupt (or whatever other reason it can decide to sell out the collected data), who can be the buyer?
Being illegal, it cannot be a "sell little pieces (who my partner sent email and instant messagging?) of information to many people". it would be a "one big sell to a big buyer". but who can buy all this information? well, the only possible buyer I can see is a government or secret agency (maybe a foreign one). ok i stop here, i'n the first who does not like complots theories.

Posted by: paolo at October 16, 2004 12:42 PM

It's even worse than that. As I posted on Paolo's thread, integrating the Google desktop with orkut would give Google unprecedented rights to use every file shared via the service.


Posted by: Adam Fields at October 17, 2004 11:06 AM