Is Google Too Big?

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Doubleclick Deal

Should Google receive approval for its acquisition of DoubleClick, it could become the single largest custodian of Internet user search and browsing histories, with few legal restrictions on using that data or sharing it with third parties. The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint with the FTC, which must approve the deal, asking it to investigate the ability of Google to record and profile the activities of Internet users, whether they are personally identifiable or not.

The FTC appears to be taking the matter seriously, requesting additional information from both Google and DoubleClick. The European Union's privacy agency and the New York State Consumer Protection Board are also concerned about the purchase's effect on browsing privacy.

A Google FAQ page, however, insists that the acquisition, far from endangering privacy, will improve it, and that the company remains committed to respecting users' privacy preferences.

Another danger in switching to hosted services like Google Docs and Spreadsheets and Google Calendar is that of losing access to your data. What happens when the office DSL connection goes down? And how would you make last-minute changes to, say, a critical spreadsheet while you're flying coast-to-coast? The recent launch of Google Gears, which will let you use online apps from Google and other companies without an Internet connection, promises to overcome this limitation, but the service likely won't become widely available for several months. Until then, your data is off limits when you're offline.

"You're accepting dramatically increased [file management] complexity--maybe for good reason--in order to get the benefit of having Google engineers keep everything running for you," observes Edelman. He says that businesses need to consider not only the benefits of outsourcing server management but also the drawbacks of having to keep local versions of documents synchronized with the Google-hosted versions.

Despite the uncertainty of Google's plans for your personal data, the company itself is probably the least of your worries. Instead, warns Edelman, hackers or your business's competitors could try to infiltrate your Google accounts via forged documents or other illegal methods.

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