XP antivirus 2011

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Samsung Galaxy S2 Review

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Google Chorome: Don't use it

You may have heard of Google Chrome, Google’s attempt to take on Internet Explorer and Firefox by releasing a stand alone web browser (no doubt part of Google’s secret plan to gradually take over the world).  As with most Google services, it looks interesting and well designed.
However, as this article suggests, as is also the case with most Google services there are hidden catches which most users should, but probably won’t, be aware of.  I’ve written about EULAs before, and the Chrome EULA is a cracker.  The main issue is this clause:
7.3 Google reserves the right (but shall have no obligation) to pre-screen, review, flag, filter, modify, refuse or remove any or all Content from any Service. For some of the Services, Google may provide tools to filter out explicit sexual content. These tools include the SafeSearch preference settings (see http://www.google.com/help/customize.html#safe). In addition, there are commercially available services and software to limit access to material that you may find objectionable.
To understand what this clause is saying, we need to understand what “Services” and “Content” are in this agreement. Services are defined in clause 1.1 to include:
Google’s products, software, services and web sites
So Services would include Google’s web search, Picasa, Google Maps, and the Chrome browser itself.
Content is defined in clause 7.1 as follows:
all information (such as data files, written text, computer software, music, audio files or other sounds, photographs, videos or other images) which you may have access to as part of, or through your use of, the Services
Content would arguably include any websites or images you access via Google search, and anything at all that you access using Chrome as your browser.
Let’s assume, as seems to be the case, that the purpose of the majority of Google’s “Services” is to provide access to information in the form of “Content”.  The sting of clause 7.3 is in the following: Google “reserves the right … to pre-screen, review, flag, filter, modify, refuse or remove any or all Content from any Service.“  This is an extremely broad clause, and legitimises any number of actions Google might elect (at its discretion) to take with respect to “Content”.  In particular:
  • “pre-screen” suggests that Content may be subjected to certain criteria before it is provided;
  • “review” suggests that Content may be scrutinised after it has been accessed by a user;
  • “flag” is one of the more disturbing words used, and is clearly not limited to flagging particular issues to the user – it could also quite reasonably be said to include flagging certain content to Google or to the authorities;
  • “modify” suggests that Content may be manipulated from its original state (without the user necessarily being aware of that fact) before being provided to the user;
  • “refuse” suggests that Content may simply not be provided in some circumstances; and
  • “remove” indicates a degree of intervention in Content which has already been accessed.
On a generous reading of the intention behind this clause, it might be concluded that Google wishes to protect itself from lawsuits in circumstances where it, for example, does not transmit viruses or other malicious software to users, or where it automatically provides optional content filtering against porn and the like (e.g. “moderate safesearch”, which is turned on by default in Google Image Search).
However, a generous reading of intention does not limit the rights that you confer on Google when you agree to the EULA.  If you use Chrome as your web browser, then based on the clear terms of the agreement, you have agreed that Google has the right to:
  • monitor what you are or have been looking at on the web and store that information (‘review’ or ‘pre-screen’);
  • transparently alter websites or other information you access using Chrome so that you are in fact viewing a modified version without knowing it (‘modify’);
  • report you to the authorities if you access specific content, identified solely according to Google’s own policies or arrangements with said authorities (‘flag’);
  • make it appear that websites or other information is unavailable when in fact it is being filtered (‘refuse’); and
  • delete information from your web browser (e.g. cookies, bookmarks, history) or arguably even from your computer (content downloaded via Chrome) at its discretion (‘remove’).
So, to put the foregoing in the form of tangible (but purely hypothetical) examples, by agreeing to the EULA you have agreed that if Google wanted to, and so long as you are using Chrome, it could:
  • prevent you from accessing information about euthanasia or abortions;
  • prevent you from accessing the websites of specific political or social organisations;
  • report you to the police if you access particular kinds of pornography;
  • report you to anti-terrorism authorities if you are doing research into islamic terrorism;
  • silently modify statistical or factual data on a website you are accessing;
  • silently doctor photographs or maps;
  • prevent you from accessing websites critical of Google (like this one, I suppose!);
  • store everything you look at and mine it for commercial or personal data at a later date; or
  • delete bookmarks of websites of Google’s competitors from your browser .
I am happy to admit that Google probably won’t do any of those things, at least in the West.  It would be commercially foolish at best.  But Google already has a track record of cooperating with nasty totalitarian governments in censoring the Internet.  So it should at least be assumed that Google might do some or all of the above.  It is also known that Google stores and mines all of your email sent or received via Gmail (don’t email me from Gmail addresses, god damn you) for its own commercial purposes, as well as storing it in random places where it may be subject to warrants or government spying.
There’s a simple solution, of course: don’t use Google Chrome.  When you have the choice of using a web browser which definitely won’t do any of the above, it would be insane to use one which exposes you to even a slight possibility of any of those things occurring.  Ideally, therefore, you should use Firefox or even Internet Explorer in preference to Chrome.
If you care about your privacy and having unfettered access to information, I would suggest that steering clear of Gmail, Google Web Albums and any other service where you actually upload or download data using Google products is a good idea.  If you use Firefox, you may also like to use the excellent CustomizeGoogle plugin to control how much information about you Google is actually collecting.
Until Google learns to totally respect its users freedom to access and use third party information anyway they see fit and without corporate oversight, they do not deserve your business, even with respect to their “free” browser.

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