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December 12, 2006

How I Discovered that Google ToolBar Spied on My Surfing

posted by MR WAVETHEORY at 12/12/2006 02:48:00 PM
Recently, I downloaded a program called Live HTTP Headers a FireFox extension that shows which URLs are being downloaded by my browser. I learned that every time I loaded a web page, FireFox was loading a url that was http://toolbarqueries.google.com . Since I never typed that url into to my browser, I wondered what program was making the call. It turned out that it was Google Toolbar.

For instance, when I loaded the FireFox homepage, Google made the following call:

http://toolbarqueries.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient-ff&features=Rank&
client=navclient-auto-ff&googleip=O;xx.xxx.x.xxx;xxx&ch=xxxxxxxxx&q=info:http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Ffirefox%3Fclient%3Dfirefox-a%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial

I surfed around to figure out what was going on and learned that if you have PageRank Display enabled, Google Toolbar will contact Google every time you access a webpage. To query PageRank, the Google Toolbar makes a standard HTTP request to toolbarqueries.google.com, with the page to query in a parameter along with a hash (presumably to discourage scraping). pagerank.js includes the hash algorithm, with some amusing implementation details: #
var GPR_HASH_SEED = "Mining PageRank is AGAINST GOOGLE'S TERMS OF SERVICE. Yes, I'm talking to you, scammer."; #


function GPR_awesomeHash(value) {
var kindOfThingAnIdiotWouldHaveOnHisLuggage = 16909125;
...
}


Google's privacy policy does not tell users what it does with the data for these PageRank queries. However, presumably, it could be used for a variety of things. For instance, for each PageRank request, Google could be keeping track a list of all the websites you have visited and tracking your surfing habit. Of course, the big G doesn't tell anyone what it is doing, so this is kind of freaky. Some people might call it spyware.

To disable this spyware feature. you can click on Options on the Google Toolbar and un-check the box that says PageRank display. Doing so will stop the queries from happening and hopefully stop the unwanted spying.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Kittyrar said...

Wow, paranoid much. Google does stuff like that for the convenience of its users and you can do nothing but bag out a free service. Grow up.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I am a web developer and found that Google was indexing some of the sites that I created but haven't linked to anything nor did anyone but me access these sites. I use the pagerank feature to keep tabs on popularity of my sites but will now disable it.

Google knows more about people than any once thinks. This is eventually going to catch up to them.

9:48 AM  

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