Google Desktop: Blurring the Lines


I must say I am enormously impressed with my initial experience with the new Google Desktop tool which creates a miniature search engine on my local computer. I was stunned at how easy it is to locate information on my hard drive, including items I had lost, forgotten, and even some I thought I had erased.

To download this remarkable and free new tool, simply go to http://desktop.google.com and you’ll be just a few mouse clicks away from installing it on your hard drive. The installation is one of the smoothest and easiest I have ever experienced. This is due in large part to the compact size of the software. Once installed, the application fires itself up, and immediately starts indexing your hard drive, including all documents, emails, notes, presentations. In fact, Google Desktop will also archive and index all your Instant Message exchanges. My only disappointment so far was learning that it doesn’t index the contents of PDF files. "Our goal is to have it behave like a photographic memory for your computer," said Marissa Mayer, Google's director of consumer Web products. That’s a laudable goal, but when exact copies of things start getting made, copyright questions immediately start to surface.

I say this because in addition to indexing your own information on your computer, Google Desktop also stores and indexes an exact copy of every Web page you visit. This could arguably put the user in violation of copyright law as well as violating the terms of use conditions of some sites. "Fair use," the common defense against claims of copyright infringement, is a bit murky and often in the eye of the beholder. The same holds true for users of paid access subscription sites (Web pages delivered with SSL encryption can also be indexed by Google Desktop by the way). One possible nightmare scenario: a user purchases one-day access to a content site, and uses the Google Desktop to capture huge amounts of information, all automatically indexed for easy future retrieval. Further compounding the issue is that Google Desktop is integrated into your Web browser, blurring the lines not only between personal and Web-based content, but where that content resides, and the ownership of that content as well. Yes, you can engage in serious content piracy without Google Desktop. My point is that it's just gotten significantly easier, and some people may end up doing it without even realizing it.

Google certainly didn’t create this problem: other desktop indexing tools already exist (and you can count on a lot more in the near future), but it is taking it to a new level by making the capture of Web-based data automatic, seamless and essentially invisible to the user. And it’s one more encroachment to which content producers will need to remain alert.

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