FAQ: Hard facts about Google's Web Accelerator

The downloadable software speeds the delivery of Web pages but has its critics. What is it, and how does it work?

Google last week unveiled a new application for speeding up the delivery of Web pages. As has become routine with several of the company's recent announcements, including Gmail and desktop search, critics immediately looked for ulterior motives, privacy breaches and security slipups.

Some of it was to be expected; the more successful and powerful you become, the more scrutiny and conspiracy theories you spawn. So what is the truth about Google's latest move beyond search?

What is Web Accelerator, and how can it help me?
If you're surfing the Internet with a broadband connection, and you're hungry for more speed, Web Accelerator could be the ticket. It is free, downloadable software designed to speed access to Web pages by serving up cached, or compressed, copies of sites from Google's servers. For frequent Internet users, the company says the tool could save two to three hours a month in browsing time.


What's new:
If you're surfing the Internet with a broadband connection, and you're hungry for more speed, Google's Web Accelerator could be the ticket.

Bottom line:
Google has acknowledged a vulnerability in the beta software but said it's working on a fix. Still, depending on your comfort level, your privacy could be at stake if you use the tool.

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How does Web Accelerator work?
To create the Web Accelerator, Google used research on mouse movements to help develop algorithms that monitor where people, in aggregate, are mousing and clicking on links, according to Marissa Mayer, Google's director of Web products. With that understanding of where people will likely click, Google grabs and stores copies of prospective pages for speedy retrieval.

Google keeps a cached copy of requested Web pages and precaches some other popular pages on the user's computer to load pages faster. And in some cases, it compresses pages to half or a third their size, also speeding their delivery.

"As fast as broadband is, it's still not as fast as it could be," Mayer said. "Think of Google as your proxy. In exchange, we'll try to make the Web faster for you."

Still, aren't Web Accelerators technically best for people using dial-up?
Not necessarily. Technology experts say a good Web accelerator can mitigate packet loss, or latency, as page information is sent from router to router. It also can optimize how a graphics-heavy Web site is compressed and sent to a visitor.

Is there a security flaw in Google's Web Accelerator, and how does it affect me?
Yes, Google acknowledged a vulnerability in the beta software last week, after several online critics spotted the flaw.

The software can serve cached copies of private discussion groups or password-protected pages to people using the software. For example, using the software, a Web surfer might call up a discussion group page and see the name of another group member, making it appear as if the surfer is signed in as that other user.

Google's Mayer said the company is working on a fix and that the problem has affected only small discussion group sites. Google is deactivating the mechanism that caches vulnerable Web pages and is looking at possible mathematical algorithms to prevent the caching from happening in the future.

Are my financial information or any other secure transactions at stake?
No. According to Google, the Web Accelerator does not cache

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