Sunday, January 22, 2006

If You Got A Warrant, I Guess You're Gonna Come In

Bob Ambrogi reports that:
News this week that the Justice Department is asking a federal court to compel Google to turn over records of millions of its users' search queries is shocking and disturbing. Worse yet, America Online, Yahoo and MSN have already complied with the subpoena.

For anyone who would rather not leave behind a trail of their search queries for government investigators to examine, there is a way to search Google and Yahoo anonymously -- it is called Scroogle. Its search proxy sends your queries through Google and returns the results free of ads and cookies, circumventing Google's tracking.

To learn more about Google and privacy, visit Scroogle's companion site, Google Watch.
I first went to Scroogle and learned that it allowed both Google and Yahoo searches without any tracking record. Interestingly, the site also recommended Clusty, which it states "has better results than Google and doesn't track you." Both Scroogle and Clusty have search icons that can be added to the Firefox search bar.

I then when to Google Watch. That site made statements about GMail which, if true, are also troubling:
Google offers more storage for your email than other Internet service providers that we know about. The powerful searching encourages account holders to never delete anything. It takes three clicks to put a message into the trash, and more effort to delete this message. It's much easier to "archive" the message, or just leave it in the inbox and let the powerful searching keep track of it. Google admits that even deleted messages will remain on their system, and may also be accessible internally at Google, for an indefinite period of time. For a few months they showed a note saying that messages left in the trash folder for 30 days would be automatically deleted, but many users reported that this never happened. Now that message, which is still present for the spam folder, is gone from the trash folder. Google wants very much to get to know you better.
* * * * *
After 180 days in the U.S., email messages lose their status as a protected communication under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and become just another database record. This means that a subpoena instead of a warrant is all that's needed to force Google to produce a copy. Other countries may even lack this basic protection, and Google's databases are distributed all over the world. Since the Patriot Act was passed, it's unclear whether this ECPA protection is worth much anymore in the U.S., or whether it even applies to email that originates from non-citizens in other countries.
I don't know whether this is true, but, as a protective matter, I fully intend to not to keep anything on my GMail account for more than 180 days.


Anonymous said...

You should read this about the Google watch site:b

Stuart Levine said...

The criticism of was directed to its attack on Google ranking policies. The significantly different attack on Google and privacy concerns was not addressed.

I'm willing to believe that the attacks on Google are born of some personal animus against Google. That does not mean, however, that the attacks do not raise serious issues, issues that does not address.