Google Toolbar tracks searches after it’s disabled.

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Ben Edelman, Harvard privacy researcher and guru has revisited the features of Google Toolbar and was appalled to discover that disabling it doesn’t really disable it. He is recommending that all users uninstall it.

In a long, thorough and well-written piece on his blog Edelman discusses how he monitored the Toolbar’s behavior with a network sniffer and documented the transmission of data back to Google (to toolbarqueries.google.com). Not only does it track a user’s Google searches, but it also phones home information about searches done in other search engines.

And, the privacy policy, he says, is “inept.”

“Notice that the Privacy Policy loads in an unusual window with no browser chrome – no Edit-Find option to let a user search for words of particular interest, no Edit-Select All and Edit-Copy option to let a user copy text to another program for further review, no Save or Print options to let a user preserve the file. Had Google used a standard browser window, all these features would have been available, but by designing this nonstandard window, Google creates all these limitations.”

This, of course, prevents a user from using an application like EULAlyzer that points out areas of concern in end user licensing agreements and privacy statements.

His conclusions about what Google should do:

“When a user disables Google Toolbar, all Enhanced Features transmissions need to stop, immediately and without exception. This change must be deployed to all Google Toolbar users straightaway….”
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“Google also needs to clean up the results of its nonconsensual data collection. In particular, Google has collected browsing data from users who specifically declined to allow such data to be collected….” 
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“But these records never should have been sent to Google in the first place. So Google should find a way to let concerned users request that Google fully and irreversibly delete their entire Toolbar histories.
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“The current Toolbar installation sequence suffers inconsistent statements of privacy consequences, with poor presentation of the full Toolbar Privacy Statement. Toolbar puts a button on users’ Taskbar unrequested. And as my videos show, once Google puts its code on a user’s computer, there’s nothing to stop Google from tracking users even after users specifically decline. I’ve run Google Toolbar for nearly a decade, but this week I uninstalled Google Toolbar from all my PCs. I encourage others to do the same.”

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