Google Suggest = Keystroke Logger

by on September 11, 2008 · 128 comments

The provocative title hides some pretty good news, actually.

I had been thinking about how the “suggested searches” in the Google homepage and the Google search box in Firefox must rely on sharing your keystrokes with Google as you type them.

This is a privacy concern. Say you typed “I have herpes” in the search box but then thought better of submitting it. Google Suggest would already have sent your keystrokes along, even before you hit “I’m Feeling Lucky!” (Might have reconsidered that “lucky” feeling back in college when you – well, water under the bridge I guess . . .)

I’m pleased to see that Google recognizes this problem and is taking some steps to minimize the privacy consequences of this feature. They will anonymize the 2% of usage data they collect about this service.

Now, keep in mind that Google has been squirrely in the past about what it means to anonymize information. You can disable Google Suggest in “Preferences” by selecting the ‘Do not provide query suggestions in the search box’ checkbox.

The overall lesson is that you shouldn’t type anything on a Web form that you don’t plan on sharing. The curtain hiding your thoughts is pulled back before you click “Submit.”

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