Is new Google desktop a threat?

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The debate continues over the security of Google's latest desktop version because of a controversial feature that allows users to run remote searches across multiple computers.

The internet search giant contends the "search across computers" feature – part of Google Desktop 3 Beta, which launched Feb. 9 – "helps users easily access information from all of their computers so they don't need to remember where all of their documents are organized or filed."

However, watchdog group the Electronic Frontier Foundation said earlier this month that the feature would make personal data more susceptible to government subpoenas and hackers.

And Gartner researcher Whit Andrews, in a report last week, advised enterprise customers against using the feature.

"Google promises that this information will be encrypted and accessible only to a small set of Google employees, who will not peruse it," Andrews said. "Nevertheless, Gartner believes that its mere transport outside the enterprise will represent an unacceptable security risk to many enterprises."

Andrews added that employees may fail to identify files that should not be shared.

Andrews suggested that organizations use Google Desktop 3 for enterprise, which allows the "search across computers" feature to be turned off, unlike on the consumer version.

Matthew Glotzbach, posting on the Google enterprise blog, agreed with Andrews' recommendation.

"Admittedly we're of two minds on this," Glotzbach said. "On the one hand, we know that our friends on the desktop team have gone to great lengths to protect users' data and privacy. On the other hand, we are the enterprise team, and we understand that a company's data is more precious that gold – and you don't go passing your gold around."

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