Google Public DNS: What It Means For Your Privacy

An overview of Google's new DNS resolving service.

Google's expanding its grasp on the Internet with a newly revealed DNS resolving service. Google Public DNS, announced Thursday on Google's blog, will offer you an alternative way to connect to Web sites.

As with the launch of most Google services, people are starting to ask questions about what kind of data will be collected and how exactly it will be used. (Or, in more lay terms, "Is Google going to be evil?") Here are some straight-forward answers, straight from the source.

Google Public DNS: An Introduction

First, a brief description of what exactly Google Public DNS is: In a nutshell, the DNS -- or domain name system -- is what actually finds and directs you to a Web site when you type in its URL. You input "pcworld.com," the system translates that into the matching numerical address of PC World's server, and you're taken to the page. That's the simple explanation, anyhow.

For most users, DNS lookups are handled automatically through an Internet service provider; they're not tasks most of us see or devote much thought to. You do have the option, however, of using your own third-party DNS resolver. That's where Google Public DNS comes in.

The advantage of using a system such as Google's is that it can be faster, more efficient, and more secure than the default ISP alternatives. Companies such as OpenDNS already offer such functionality. As OpenDNS founder David Ulevitch points out, Google Public DNS will not offer the ability to filter content and customize the experience in the same way that a pay-to-play service does.

Google Public DNS and Your Privacy

Okay, that's out of the way -- now let's tackle the all-important question of privacy. What exactly will Google be watching with its new Google Public DNS service?

Here's the breakdown of what is and isn't collected:

• Your IP address: yes. But only temporarily. That data, Google says, is never stored for more than 24 to 48 hours, and it's collected solely to identify technical problems and help protect from attacks.

• Your name or other personally identifying information: no. Google assures this type of data is never collected.

• Your location: yes. Google says it permanently stores "metro-level" info on your whereabouts for the purpose of debugging and improving the Google Public DNS experience. Most of this information is held for two weeks, Google says, though a "small subset" is sampled for permanent storage. The company promises that it never ties the location data to any other information collected from your session.

• The Web sites you look up: yes. But again, Google says that information is not stored along with any data that would identify who you are.

• Lots of technical details: yes. Google Public DNS permanently logs technical items such as your request type, transport protocol, and the length of time it takes the system to complete your requests. You can see a full list of these technical details on Google's official Public DNS privacy policy.

None of the information collected, Google says, is ever tied to your Google account, stored as part of your profile on any other Google service, or shared with any third-party provider.

Google Public DNS and Advertising

One last concern: What about ads? Is Google going to be inserting sponsorships into your surfing experience?

So far, there are no indications that it will. Typically, with DNS resolvers, ads appear when users try to go to a Web page that can't be found; at that time, a custom error page will pop up that features sponsored banners or text links. The FAQ for Google Public DNS, however, states the following:

"If you issue a query for a domain name that does not exist, Google Public DNS always returns an NXDOMAIN record, as per the DNS protocol standards."

Now, with that being said, some people still have their doubts. OpenDNS's Ulevitch, for example, believes a deeper motive may exist.

"You have to remember they are also the largest advertising and redirection company on the Internet," he says. "To think that Google's DNS service is for the benefit of the Internet would be naive. They know there is value in controlling more of your Internet experience, and I would expect them to explore that fully."

Google Public DNS: More Resources

If you want more detailed information about Google Public DNS, check out some of the following resources:

Google Public DNS: An Introduction

Google Public DNS: Performance Benefits

Google Public DNS: Security Benefits

Google Public DNS: Setup Instructions and Support

Google Public DNS: Privacy Policy

Google Public DNS: Official FAQ

JR Raphael is co-founder of geek-humor site eSarcasm. He hopes to never have to answer any of Google's daunting interview questions.

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JR Raphael

PC World (US online)
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