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Search update brings new privacy pitfalls for Google

09 Aug 2012

V3 reporter Shaun NicholsGoogle has introduced a set of new features to its Search platform which could help to greatly simplify the way users look up information.

Unfortunately, it also threatens to revolutionise the ways in which users could lose their data and have sensitive information made public.

The company on Wednesday unveiled a product update which will link the user's Gmail account and messages stored in the mailbox with the Search platform. As a result, email search is integrated into web search queries and data from messages shows up alongside web search results.

The implications for this could be huge for users. Suddenly, you can search your inbox for information without having to switch services. The time saved from not having to open new tabs and windows alone could definitely add up.

As Google pointed out in announcing the feature, often the information we are seeking is easier to find in the inbox than on the web. Being able to search through both services at once will make users' lives easier.

Unfortunately, it could also make them more dangerous. Some of the most useful features of the update could also lead to the biggest risks for data loss. Both the designed features and unintended vulnerabilities could put users at risk of data disclosures.

For starters, there's the simple risk of user error. Every day, thousands of people lose their personal information through foolishness or outright carelessness. This will only be amplified with the combined search feature.

Suddenly, every Google user who works on a public machine or shared computer finds themselves at risk of email snooping. Should a user step away from their systems, or just forget to log out, would leave their machines at risk of snooping.

A user could, in theory, leave their account signed on and then step away from the computer, allowing someone else to simply open a new tab and through Google search pull up potentially sensitive information. Even a user who means no harm could inadvertently find themselves looking at the personal information of the last person to use that machine.

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Shaun Nichols

Shaun Nichols is the US correspondent for He has been with the company since 2006, originally joining as a news intern at the site's San Francisco offices.

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