Google bends to privacy critics on Chrome tool

Google had been taking heat from privacy advocates

Reacting to criticism that its new Chrome browser was essentially acting as a keylogger, Google last week said it would render data anonymous within 24 hours of collecting information from the browser.

Google had been taking heat from privacy advocates over the Google Suggest feature in OmniBox, Chrome's combination address and search bar. Suggest automatically lists related search queries and popular Web destinations based on the text typed by users.

To do so, the feature transmits keystrokes to Google's servers. The vast majority are deleted as soon as suggestions are returned, but about 2 percent are recorded, along with associated data such as the IP addresses of the user. Google says it needs the information to monitor and improve Suggest.

But Urs Holzle, the company's senior vice president of operations, said in a blog post that given the concerns and the data's "limited potential use," Google plans to start anonymizing it "within about 24 hours" of receiving it. That is as quickly as is practical, he said.

Suggest began rolling out to Google's search engine late last month; before that, it was used as part of the Google Toolbar.

But what sparked the criticism over its use in Chrome was OmniBox's everything-in-one-place nature, said Alissa Cooper, chief computer scientist at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington. "Users were faced with Google retaining all of their search logs and all of the URLs they were typing," she said.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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