Google Desktop & Canadian Client Privacy

Robert Ambrogi makes a few good points about the newest edition of Google Desktop Search (GDS) and the protection of client privacy. Specifically, if you enable the ‘Search Across Multiple Computers’ function, Google will upload copies of your documents to Google’s servers.

Canadian law firms, already on the lookout for protecting client data in the Patriot Act era, will have to be extra careful that this function is turned off.

I feel sorry for the systems people out there. This would seem to be yet another download that will have to be policed via firewall blocking and registry configurations.

Update: Chris Sherman over at SEW has a related article: Google Desktop Fears Overblown?. Quoted… “There’s no need to boycott Google Desktop 3. Think carefully before enabling the program’s advanced features, but take disingenuous claims like “Google copies your hard drive” with a substantial block of salt.” :-)


  1. Steven,

    Curiously, Between Lawyers asserts that the server copy is encrypted (as against whom?) but I’ve seen no confirmation of that (have you?). If Google can encrypt it, I assume it can decrypt it, particularly if ordered under the Patriot Act to do so ….

  2. It seems nuts to rely on software like Google Desktop to index your hard drive — if you’re a lawyer. As Rob suggests, the political climate in the land of the free (software) is such that promised privacy may be just that — a bare promise that gets broken under governmental pressure. Don’t law firms have desktop indexing solutions that run locally without any possibility whatever of connecting to the internet? I ask genuinely, because I don’t run a firm and because I do my computing on a Mac with Spotlight indexing my drives, and so long as I don’t mess with iTunes — :-} — Apple won’t learn what I’ve got on my machine.

  3. Rob – you can’t index what you can’t decrypt can you? :-) good point.

    Most firms discourage users from saving anything on the local PC. If you don’t have your content at the server level, it doesn’t get backed up, and it can’t be found by other firm members – hence our dependence on Document Management Systems.

    I would think a solo practitioner is the typical user who could benefit from this type of software, but would also be at the most risk. The tech savvy solo may become aware and shut this feature down, and the not so tech savvy solo may see this as a shortcut to documents sharing. ?

  4. What typically happens is someone uses an application like this at home, finds it useful, then installs it at work. As Steve said, most firms discourage users from downloading anything without it being vetted by IT first. That does not mean they listen, however.

    After all, why index everything when you can just Google it? It’s pretty tough to shift that way of thinking.

    Some people know just enough to be dangerous. I always wonder if that is how the IT dept. sees me? Well, I try to keep my experiments to the home computer at least!

  5. I think that it is safe to assume that anything Google-ish is collecting information from your local PC and possibly making cached copies in the name of expedited searching. After all they make their $ from selling targeted ad space. Let’s not forget that for all of the interesting things that Google is doing, it is a company that deals with a bottom line, so if there is a conflict between privacy and profit, privacy is going to lose. Now where is that grassy knoll?

  6. There’s a Roy Tennant article in Library Journal that I blogged about a while back that reflects what you’ve said Mark. quote:

    “Collaboration with Google will likely provide some clear wins but also some significant trade-offs and even dire pitfalls. “It’s important to remember,” says Gary Price of, “that Google is not in the information business in the same way as companies such as Factiva or Dialog are.” Our clientele deserve no less than the same clear-eyed appraisal that we would use with any library vendor. It should not require an innocent child to detect when the emperor is without clothes.”

    critical eye…grassy knoll…call it what you will, but I’m in there too. :-)