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11/3/2008
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Google Chrome Privacy Issues Prompts Plea To Google Execs

Chief among the group's complaints is Google Suggest, a feature found in Chrome and other Google applications like Google Toolbar.

In an effort to publicize what it claims are the privacy failings of Google's new Chrome browser, Consumer Watchdog is airing its grievances through Google's YouTube and urging viewers to use its e-mail form to submit a message to Google's board of directors demanding better privacy protection.

Google's new Chrome browser presents a privacy risk for consumers, the consumer advocacy group contends, because it sends information about users' searches "without users' full understanding, consent or control."

Google launched its open source Chrome browser, now in its third beta iteration (version 0.3.154.9), in early September to provide a better experience and better security for browser-based applications.

Chrome's Incognito mode, like Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2's InPrivate mode and Apple Safari's Private Browsing mode, creates a window in which, as Google puts it, nothing "is ever logged on your computer."

Consumer Watchdog argues that Chrome's Incognito mode does not confer the privacy that the mode's name suggests and that Chrome's blurring of local and remote computing "creates confusion in the consumer’s mind about the privacy and security of confidential information."

Chief among the group's complaints is Google Suggest, a feature found in Chrome and other Google applications like Google Toolbar. It is effectively a keystroke logger than sends every character typed to Google. Google uses this information to provide search suggestions that it refines with every subsequent letter.

Google doesn't see the harm in this. "Just as E.T. needs to phone home in order to get a spaceship to pick him up, Google Suggest needs to talk to Google while you type in order to offer suggestions to you," the company explains on its Web site. "Everything you type, though, is protected by Google's privacy policy."

Earlier this month, Consumer Watchdog in a letter urged the U.S. Department of Justice to reject Google's proposed advertising deal with Yahoo. The group cited the lack of user control over Google's data collection, particularly through Chrome, as the impetus for its opposition to the deal.

Now the organization wants the various State Attorneys General to force Google to let consumers choose to use its services anonymously.

"Google's role is now unprecedented because the Internet goliath is no longer merely collecting some data about how we search and surf the Web," said Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court in a statement. "Its new browser and software are actually sending information from inside our computers to its servers. If Google won't solve its own privacy problems, the company must be prepared for regulators to put the brakes on its unprecedented growth. State Attorneys General need to take action to protect consumers’ privacy and make sure that computer users have the ability to opt-out of Google's web and browse anonymously."

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