We're from Google and we're here to help. Really?

Privacy kerfuffle surrounding the Chrome Web browser was entirely avoidable--and it wouldn't have slowed down its sales juggernaut, either. A lesson for next time.

This didn't take long. Just one day into Chrome's young existence and serious privacy questions are getting raised. Sleuthing by my colleague Ina Fried turned up the following:

The auto-suggest feature of Google's new Chrome browser does more than just help users get where they are going. It will also give Google a wealth of information on what people are doing on the Internet besides searching.

Provided that users leave Chrome's auto-suggest feature on and have Google as their default search provider, Google will have access to any keystrokes that are typed into the browser's Omnibox, even before a user hits enter.

What's more, Google has every intention of retaining some of that data even after it provides the promised suggestions. A Google representative told CNET News that the company plans to store about 2 percent of that data--and plans to store it along with the Internet Protocol address of the computer that typed it.

So much for "Don't be evil"? That's probably a stretch, though I have the feeling that Google was so eager to push this product onto the Web that it failed to let its wiser heads add their two cents. Nothing here that can't be remedied as you only need to turn off the auto-suggest feature to prevent Google from getting its hands on your personal data.

Meanwhile, Google has since backed away from its initial insistence on claiming the right to display and distribute any content transmitted through the browser. In a statement released earlier Wednesday, Google said, "In order to keep things simple for our users, we try to use the same set of legal terms (our Universal Terms of Service) for many of our products. Sometimes, as in the case of Google Chrome, this means that the legal terms for a specific product may include terms that don't apply well to the use of that product. We are working quickly to remove language from Section 11 of the current Google Chrome terms of service."

I wouldn't get too excited about any of this. Truth be told, however, the privacy kerfuffle around the Chrome Web browser was entirely avoidable--and it wouldn't have slowed down its sales juggernaut either. Google can learn the lesson in advance of the next big product roll-out.

Earlier Wednesday, I sat down with Ina on our Daily Debrief segment for an extended chat about all this.

Click here for full coverage of the Google Chrome launch.

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About the author

Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.

 

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