Google Toolbar Spying on Whitehouse.gov (and others)?




Now he’s an interesting discovery by Ben Edelman: disabling the Google Toolbar doesn’t actually prevent it from sending data back to Big Brother Google.

He ran some tests, with the Google Toolbar disabled and closed from view, and sure enough, the toolbar still transmitted URL information back to the search giant.

In his example, Edelman throws a little spice on his privacy concerns by visiting www.Whitehouse.gov to demonstrate the covert signal:

He notes that this only happens if you have the “Enhanced Features”–such as PageRank and Sidewiki–enabled, but he also points out just how hard it is to disable these features (you have to reinstall Google Toolbar).

Now, here’s the thing. If you’re an SEO of any kind, you probably already had a gut-feeling that simply not displaying the toolbar wasn’t really a way to stop Google from getting its grubby hands on your surfing habits–right? So consider this confirmation for most of us and a warning to anyone that had no idea.

So, what should Google do? Edelman suggests the following:

Google’s first step is simple: Fix the Toolbar so that X and Manage Add-Ons in fact do what they promise. When a user disables Google Toolbar, all Enhanced Features transmissions need to stop, immediately and without exception. This change must be deployed to all Google Toolbar users straightaway.

Will Google volunteer such a change, or will it take some European court to force its hand?

UPDATE: A Google spokesperson tells us this has now been fixed:

“To be clear, this is only an issue until a user restarts the browser, and it only affects the currently open tabs for a small number of users.

Specifically it affects those using Google Toolbar versions 6.3.911.1819 through 6.4.1311.42 in Internet Explorer, with enhanced features enabled, who chose to disable Toolbar without uninstalling it. Once the user restarts the browser, the issue is no longer present. A fix that doesn’t require a browser restart is now available on www.google.com/toolbar and in an automatic update to Google Toolbar that we are starting today.”

  • http://searchmarketingwisdom.com Alan Bleiweiss

    I love how Google continues to do so much evil. This kind of behavior, while no surprise to me, just reaffirms that even Google walks all over privacy. And why I refuse to use toolbars of any kind from any source except on Internet Explorer which I only use on very rare occasions and for exploring an aspect of SEO when I’m extra curious about something.
    .-= Alan Bleiweiss´s last blog ..Google AdWords Contact Forms – A Bad Idea =-.