Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is Google Playing With Privacy And Anonymity Of the Users?

Eric Schmidt recently commented that “If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines--including Google--do retain this information for some time. And it's important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities."

Reacting sharply Asa Dotzler, community development manager for Mozilla recommended use of Microsoft's Bing search engine as an alternative to Google. The fact is that Bing does have a better privacy policy than Google. According to Praveen Dalal, the leading Techno-Legal Expert of India and Managing Partner of Perry4Law, “There is no doubt that the search results and quality of Bing is fast catching up with the Google search engine. Bing is also better than Google if wonderful services of onion routing softwares like TOR are used. Google is not that good with the TOR services, says Praveen Dalal”.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation made a similar observation. "Unfortunately, Schmidt's statement makes it seem as if Google, a company that claims to care about privacy, is not even concerned enough to understand basic lessons about privacy and why it's important on so many levels -- from protection against shallow embarrassments to the preservation of freedom and human rights".

Google says such criticism takes Schmidt's remarks out of context. This may be true or not. However, privacy and anonymity issues have started to haunt Google. Regarding the anonymity issues, developers have warned that a bug in the latest version of the Google Chrome browser could leak the identity of users trying to surf anonymously. The flaw means that domain-name queries are made by a user's local network even when Chrome is configured to used a third-party proxy.

This presents a serious risk for the users of the services such as Tor, as their DNS data and the little anonymity they have with Tor is leaked outside and in the clear," according to an advisory published Monday on the Full-Disclosure mailing list.

There seems to be some confusion about what's causing the bug. According to the Full-Disclosure advisory, a feature known as DNS pre-fetching, which is enabled by default, is responsible for the loss of anonymity. But some developers participating in this discussion in a forum for Google's open-source Chromium browser say the vulnerability exists even when pre-fetching is disabled. Google said that they are looking into the matter and fix the issue. The spokesman of Google also said that this issue would only potentially impact a very small number of people who make use of anonymity services like Tor.

It seems Google is not interested in providing good privacy and anonymity to its users and this would ultimately result in shifting to other search engines, browsers and online services. The users who believe in greater privacy, security and anonymity must use a combination of Firefox with the Tor, choosing the Torbutton option for Firefox.