Spyware

Google’s Chrome Browser Calling Home: Blatant Spyware – the Proof

Google being infamous for its propensity to launch free desktop tools doubling as data mining i.e. spyware gimmicks, we’ve checked and analyzed one aspect of their new Chrome browser’s data streaming behavior in more detail.

In conducting these tests we focused on the type of data being sent to Google when you enter something into the Chrome address field.

So we typed the URL http://www.microsoft.com into the address field in an intentionally slow fashion. Outgoing and incoming data streams where simultaneously analyzed deploying the network protocol analyzer tool Wireshark.

The ensuing log files indicate beyond doubt that the typed-in characters are being converted into GET commands calling a specific Google URL.

In this particular example all calls following were addressed at IP 74.125.43.100 which is assigned to the host bw-in-f100.google.com – clearly a Google property.

Generally speaking, the generated URLs will adopt this specific format:

http://74.125.43.100/complete/search?client=chrome&output=chrome&hl=en-US&q=... 

The query string “q=…” is made up of the characters or letters you enter in the address field.

In the following log file excerpt we have purged the preceding part of the URLs, i.e. the string “http://74.125.43.100″ for easier readability. Following the initial GET line you’ll find the Google server return data. 

Session Protocol
----------------
GET /complete/search?client=chrome&output=chrome&hl=en-US&q=h
["h",["http://www.hm.com/","hotmail","home depot","hsbc"],["H\x26M","430,000,000 results","32,300,000 results","27,800,000 results"],[],{"google:suggesttype":["NAVIGATION","QUERY","QUERY","QUERY"]}]

GET /complete/search?client=chrome&output=chrome&hl=en-US&q=htt
["htt",["http://www.facebook.com/","httpservletrequest","httrack","http 500"],["Facebook","1,000,000 results","554,000 results","87,500,000 results"],[],{"google:suggesttype":["NAVIGATION","QUERY","QUERY","QUERY"]}]

GET /complete/search?client=chrome&output=chrome&hl=en-US&q=http
["http",["http://www.wikipedia.org/","httpservletrequest","http 500","http 404"],["Wikipedia","1,000,000 results","87,500,000 results","7,200,000 results"],[],{"google:suggesttype":["NAVIGATION","QUERY","QUERY","QUERY"]}]

GET /complete/search?client=chrome&output=chrome&hl=en-US&q=http%3A

This shows nicely how each and every character, when entered in slow speed, gets transmitted to Google whereupon the Google system returns its suggestions that will not be modified further, the more complete your final address string becomes.

It is important to note that we are analyzing the browser’s address field here, not a Google query field!

In a nutshell: with its Chrome browser Google is actually monitoring your entire surfing behavior, not merely the searches you may conduct via their search engine.

So regardless how lax a data privacy standard you may embrace: this clearly and unambiguously qualifies Chrome as a blatant spyware tool!

You don’t have to be an Einstein to figure out that lots of privacy protection interest groups (and the European Commission who have been giving Google a pretty hard time over privacy violation issues in the recent past anyway…) will take a pretty dim view of this policy. So expect this matter to dominate the headlines for quite a while to come.

Nor would it come as a particular surprise to us if this should evolve into yet another public relations disaster for the Google crowd who have proved remarkably insensitive to concerns both by the general public and the body politic outside the USA in this field.

So are there any upsides to this from an SEO point of view? Maybe there are, indeed. Some suggestions come to mind off the cuff.

You could use Chrome specifically to either grab data from Google you’re interested in or to furnish them with data you actually want them to have.

  1. Google’s suggestions obviously constitute a type of ranking preference list which you could use to determine specific web sites’ ranking.
  2. You could turn the tables on them by using their browser as a “submission tool” of sorts by entering specific sites in an organic manner to announce them to Google. This may be yet another method of triggering the Googlebot spiders to actually crawl those sites.
  3. In a further step, you might automate the process and daisywheel it across an extensive proxy network to simulate high levels of organic traffic to whichever web sites or pages you want to promote. Seeing that users’ search behavior seems to be gaining in importance as a ranking factor (much like DirectHit used to do back in the 90s), this may make eminent sense as a prime organic SEO tool of the not-too-distant future.

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