EFF is sounding a warning about Google Desktop’s latest Search Remote Computers function. The function itself sounds nice: one search command to search all your documents and viewed webpages regardless of what computer they’re on. Trouble is, Google does it by uploading all those sensitive documents to their own servers in case your laptop or other computers are off-line.
I think Google has a pretty good moral compasses, but (as I mentioned when GMail came out) there are fundamental risks with this sort of centralized system regardless of the trustworthiness of the company running them. As EFF’s alert points out, many legal protections enjoyed by information stored on your own home computer are lost when stored with an online service provider:
I can imagine other legal and practical questions as well. For example, if Google Desktop wound up uploading a researcher’s company-confidential tech reports, would that count as “disclosure” and thus prevent him from filing for a patent on his work? And if a laptop running the software is opened in a foreign airport (e.g. China), can the local Google office be subjected to subpoena under that country’s own laws?