Friday, May 06, 2005

Controversy about Google Web Accelerator

Many have been talking about Google Labs' latest release, Google Web Accelerator. It promises to reduce wait times when web browsing mostly by a combination of caching and pre-fetching.

Unfortunately, it appears to have some issues. First, as Nathan Weinberg writes, it appears that Google Web Accelerator is sometimes serving up the wrong cached page, showing you a page with someone other than you logged into site, for example.

Second, as Fons Tuinstra reports, Google Web Accelerator effectively acts like a proxy and, among other things, allows users to bypass China's firewall. While I'm no supporter of that firewall, I suspect China will not be happy about this development. The response is unlikely to be favorable to Google.

Finally, many have pointed out the privacy implications of Google knowing about most pages each user has ever visited anywhere on the web and the full contents of those pages. Google may have earned a lot of trust, but this is a big step, and one that is likely to cause some concern.

But keep the big picture in mind here. Not only is Google providing a free product that can save people time if they choose to use it, but also properly anonymized information about what pages people are visiting could be used by something like TrustRank to help reduce web spam and improve the relevance rank of search results. In the end, Google is helping people find the information they need more quickly and efficiently.

Update: Hmm... I have to say I'm feeling a lot less charitable toward Google Web Accelerator after seeing Jason Fried's post about how Google Web Accelerator can delete data and have other undesirable behaviors. It looks like a lot of sites, including Findory, are going to have to go through the effort of explicitly disabling Google's prefetch. Ugh, what a mess.


Jossarian said...

Did I understand the whole thing wrong, or were the pages themselves actually designed to that anybody could delete the content after being presented with a JS "Are you sure?" box? So it's not really a quirk in the Accelerator itself, it just follows links, but the pages it visits.

Or maybe I'm just talking crosseyed badget spit here.

Greg Linden said...

That's basically right. Many websites violate the letter of the standards by having side effects on GET requests, including huge sites like

Rael Dornfest at O'Reilly Radar got it exactly right in his recent post, saying:

Yes, one could argue that only "badly designed" web applications that don't follow the rules of GET and POST will be affected, but I'm not sure this is an argument that Google (or anyone else who actually builds or uses web apps in the wild) would care to make in this situation.

Anonymous said...

Giggling Madly Here - PT Barnum Would Have Been So Proud!

This is a great program for those users who don't know anything at all regarding how computers and/or the internet actually works, and who just want to experience the "feel good illusion" of (not really) increased speed by having this entirely useless acceleration program on their hard drive.

I always laugh out loud whenever anyone proudly exclaims: "The program 'says' I saved 6.9 hours, so I'm very satisfied!" Big deal; the program could also say: "You're now twice as good-looking" or perhaps even "Congratulations you’re a millionaire!" Without being able to verify any programs' "claims" (or better put: assertions) it is just that: A totally unverifiable assertion!

Still you've got to admire Google's chutzpa here! I'm guessing that it has to be the most hilarious bit of shell-game spyware ever invented by any company in the entire history of computer or Internet use and development.

Very clever really, when you consider that the trade off is that users "think" they're getting "increased" internet speed; in exchange for revealing exact the name of every single webpage that you ever visit from the moment that you install Google Web Accelerator until (hopefully) the moment you wise up and remove it.

After Google Web Accelerator is installed it does absolutely nothing to improve browsing. Also Google Web Accelerator collects copies of web pages, (including prefetched pages that you did not even visit), in the Google Web Accelerator cache on your computer.

All this does in effect; is collect and store a gazillion MB of temp files every time you use it for a session of surfing. Try using something like CCleaner after running Google Web Accelerator and browsing the internet for a few hours and see the results for yourself!

And Google gets to know the exact the name of every single webpage that you ever visit for products, news, banking, whatever! This is very valuable information to have; not only does Google know everything you click on, but you get absolutely nothing in return for this info.

Finally, Google admits on their own support page that any and all passwords, e-mail addresses etc. you enter in a web form (e. g. when purchasing an item online) will be funneled via their systems. If you enter personally identifiable information (such as an email address) onto a form on an unencrypted web page, the sites will send this information through Google.

Had he lived long enough to see this, P.T. Barnum; the person who coined the phrase: "A Sucker is Born Every Minute" would most certainly consider those who download, install and leave this program on their computers to be suckers indeed!