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Google Desktop Search Tool Stokes Privacy Fears

Want privacy? Don't give up your personal data.

That's the gist of the brouhaha that followed Google Inc.'s release this week of an upgrade to its Google Desktop software, which can store files from a PC on the company's server.

Among the enhancements in the new version of the product, which is available by download, is a feature called Search Across Computers, which allows people to choose files on their hard drives that they want Google to automatically index, store and track on its servers, and make accessible over the Web from any computer. People can disable the feature, if they don't want files stored online.

According to Google's privacy policy, the company would treat the files as personal data and not share it with anyone. Besides storing files, the company also offers to store a person's email and instant messaging correspondences, and while Google doesn't have any plans to use any of the information to target people with advertising, it doesn't say it won't in the future.

Nevertheless, even the vocal critics of the Mountain View, Calif., search engine agree that Google is not the villain with a black hat in offering to store personal data. "But, it's at least wearing a grey hat," Kevin Bankston, staff attorney for privacy advocate the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said.

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