Google Public DNS: Wonderful Freebie or Big New Menace?

Today's news can prompt two very different views of Google, based on the announcement of its free Google Public DNS.

In one view, Google is our best friend and a noble public servant. In the other, Google may be the darkest force on the Internet. Which is it? We all must decide.

Here's the news: Today Google has begun offering an experimental, but stable, Public Domain Name Server (DNS), described in a Thursday post to Google's Official Blog.

The goal is for the new DNS to increase browsing speed and improve Internet security. I have read the technical description and believe it to the extent that I have already changed the DNS at my office to point to the new Google Public DNS. It is, however, too early to tell if my browsing has become faster.

DNS is an Internet protocol that acts as both telephone directory and switchboard. It provides for the translation of a URL, such as www.pcworld.com, into the IP address of the server that hosts the site.

When you type a URL into your browser and press the "enter" key, the DNS delivers the IP address back to your browser and the page is displayed. However, a single Web page might include content from a dozen or more different locations, most of which require a DNS lookup.

Because of this, the average Internet user may generate hundreds, even thousands, of DNS "hits" over the course of a single day. As Web pages and the Internet have become more complex, demand for DNS services have expanded exponentially.

Normally, users access a DNS provided by their Internet Service Provider. The IP address of at least one DNS is part of the Internet setup on every PC and many other devices. Usually the IP addresses of at least two DNS's are entered to provide redundancy.

There is much more to DNS than I've explained here. Google has an excellent "how-to" and technical explanation describing its Public DNS and how to use it.

One cool feature: The IP addresses are easily memorable: 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4. If you are comfortable changing your DNS, you can do so right away.

As for whether this might be wonderful or awful, here's the gist:

A key reason for the love users generally feel toward Google is that the company often does things that are good for everyone, not just Google. For example, the company didn't have to create a new, public DNS that we can all use--for free--to speed our browsing, but they did.

Google's Public DNS is very likely to be a better, faster, more secure DNS than what your ISP offers. Google is making that promise to us backed by its reputation. I trust Google enough that I've already made the change.

The downside is that Google's Public DNS will also give the Internet giant an unparalleled look what people are doing on the Internet. It will, for example, be able to log every DNS request made by every user of its system. If that doesn't frighten you at least a little, it perhaps ought to.

While I generally trust Google, whose response to most paranoia is, "Why would we risk our whole business to do something as stupid as that?" I am aware that many others don't trust the company and feel they have good reasons.

We also don't know about "passive" uses for all the data Google collects. Things we are not aware of but wouldn't like if we knew about them. I am not accusing, just making the case that Google's activities require careful monitoring.

Do I believe Google tries to do the right thing? Yes, but I am also one of the few people who generally trusts Microsoft and always trusts Bill Gates. The paranoids say I am a fool.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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