January 26, 2010
Privacy, Google, and DPI in Europe
Here's a curious report from the Inquirer (UK Tech version) about the Google Toolbar. It is alleged that the toolbar keeps reporting search information to Google even if the toolbar is disabled. Search information appears to include every web url viewed, including searches from other search engines. The claim comes from attorney Ben Edelman, who makes the claim on his web page with some striking self-developed evidence. This "capability" comes from users activating the toolbar's enhanced features. Turning off the toolbar's "send information to Google feature" doesn't apparently stop the sending. If true, the way to defeat the toolbar is to delete it. Imagine, then, Google Chrome, browser and OS to come, being one big toolbar in disguise.
Speaking of privacy, real or imagined, Virgin Media has drawn the attention of the European Commission because of a program the ISP plans to institute in Britain. It consists of deep packet inspection to determine how much copyrighted music/media is shared illegally. Virgin plans to do this without informing customers that their Internet use is monitored. The EC says it will pay close attention to this experiment. Virgin says it will collect IP addresses and packet analysis, thus insuring privacy. As anyone might know, it's easy to associate IP address with accounts. Just ask the RIAA, as the match technique is how it attempts to finger defendants in file sharing cases.
Update: Google has responded. A spokesperson said it's a bug and not a feature. The quick fix is to change the preferences for the toolbar to not send URL information, then restart the browser. Google is pushing a fix to eliminate the bug. As an article in Ars Technica points out, the rapid response suggests Google has been working on the problem before Edelman's announcement. [MG]