Hey Google, isn’t disabled supposed to mean .. well .. disabled?

While everyone is getting all googley over the fact that Google will now let you track any changes that sites do to their pages in Google Reader they might want to take a look at their Toolbar.

It appears that even when you disable the Google Toolbar that you installed in your browser at some point you aren’t really disabling it. Now as I understand it when you disable something that means that it’s not suppose to work anymore. Well it seems that the Google Toolbar keeps on sending information home to the Googleplex even after you have turned it off.

This was discovered recently by Harvard privacy researcher Ben Edelman who with the use of a network sniffer documented exactly how the Google Toolbar still send your search data back to Google. Oh and not just searches done on Google but also other search engines as well.

In this article, I provide evidence calling into question the ability of users to disable Google Toolbar transmissions. I begin by reviewing the contents of Google’s “Enhanced Features” transmissions. I then offer screenshot and video proof showing that even when users specifically instruct that the Google Toolbar be “disable[d]”, and even when the Google Toolbar seems to be disabled (e.g., because it disappears from view), Google Toolbar continues tracking users’ browsing. I then revisit how Google Toolbar’s Enhanced Features get turned on in the first place – noting the striking ease of activating Enhanced Features, and the remarkable absence of a button or option to disable Enhanced Features once they are turned on. I criticize the fact that Google’s disclosures have worsened over time, and I conclude by identifying changes necessary to fulfill users’ expectations and protect users’ privacy.

Edelman also takes apart the EULA that is supplied with the install and activation of the toolbar

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. The substance of the document is also inapt.

Makes one kind of wonder that if their toolbar is doing this kind of thing what is Chrome doing without our knowledge or knowing consent?

hat tip to the crew over at Sunbelt Software

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