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5/5/2005
10:43 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: Google's New Tools: Proceed With Caution

Before you embrace all of Google's new technologies, consider the privacy implications. Google's stuff is great, Fred Langa says, but don't get carried away with the novelty of it all.

I'm a huge fan of Google. I think the company has done more than any other to organize and make available the vast resources of the Web.

It's not just the main Google search engine, of course, although that's its principal strength and is how most people know Google. Rather, it's also the new spin-offs and additional technologies, such as more than a dozen betas and test services you can see displayed at the Google Labs site , and the newer add-ons that have graduated from Google Labs as released services. Some of these are fairly well-known, but others are just now making it to the consciousness of the online world at large: Gmail, Google Desktop Search, Google Groups 2, Google Deskbar, Web Alerts, Search by Location, Google Glossary, Google News Alerts, Froogle, and more.

Google's services are immensely useful, and the company's reach is huge and growing. I believe this is mostly a good thing, but with several major caveats, as the questions raised in these reader letters suggest:

Fred, We are hooked on using Google's Gmail even as a beta user. We have our own E-mail servers but just like convenience and features of their E-mail. We have asked Google how safe our stored E-mail is on their servers but they simply won't answer this question. We want to send important E-mail to them as a backup of our local computers' POPs, but this question should be very important to most users as they start storing important E-mails along with pictures, etc. Can you shed any light on this?

Thanks very much,
Bob Collina

Fred, I particularly like how you balance between issues of security, privacy, and the like on the one hand and functionality and practicality on the other. In light of this balance, I'm curious as to your views on Gmail. Anti-Gmail reviews provide valid criticism, which may be a tad extreme, while pro-Gmail reviews seem naive and simplistic, and their joyful embrace of the services and technology is possibly even more disturbing. While one can avoid getting a Gmail account, it seems less and less realistic to ban any communications with Gmail users, as some anti-Gmail sites suggest. I'd love to have your input on this issue, and there are probably a lot of other readers for whom the information would be relevant.

Thanks,
Ceruleancat

Fred, Several times you have discussed programs to index your PC. It was recently brought to my attention that Google is in the process of developing Google Desktop. An option I find rather neat since it indexes your files when your computer is idle and allows you to search all your content from a Google interface. Check it out. (Note to readers: Some companies' blocking mechanisms may prevent access to this site.)

Best wishes,
Adam

Google's strength, of course, is in its ability to sort, index, categorize, and make useful massive amounts of data. But there's an obvious risk when you include your personal, private, and/or corporate information (such as in E_mail, or in indexing the contents of your hard drive) as grist for Google's mill.

Some users are going to end up with essentially everything they do on their PCs at work and at home indexed and categorized by Google's bots. In fact, a large percentage of their information may actually reside on Google's servers, and nowhere else: Consider Gmail's gigabyte of free storage, for example. That's a lot of E-mail and attachments, and it will all reside on Google's hardware. That poses obvious privacy risks.

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