Google Toolbar is Spyware?

Category: Spyware

I just got a new computer at work. On my last one I had downloaded the google toolbar. The tech people here have now blocked it because they say it contains spyware. Is this true? It was so convenient to have the toolbar. Thanks for your help!

That's absolute rubbish. Your tech people are completely clueless if they believe that the Google Toolbar contains any kind of spyware. The help info for the Toolbar says this about the PageRank Display option:

In order to automatically update this display for each page you visit, the Toolbar sends information about the page you are viewing to the Google servers. Google, Inc. does not collect information that directly identifies you (e.g., your name, email address) and will not sell or provide personally identifiable information to any third parties. We strongly encourage you to read our privacy policy for more information on this topic.

You can turn off the PageRank display (and the collection of information about the pages you visit) by unchecking a box in the Toolbar Options panel.

To think that Google would open themselves to massive class-action lawsuits by doing something as stupid as putting spyware in their toolbar is ridiculous.

I understand that there are some people who will insist that ANY program that collects usage data is spyware -- regardless of whether or not that fact is disclosed in the end-user agreement. But a spy cannot be a spy if his identity and activities are known. So you can't label something "spyware" if the software clearly discloses what it does and does not do.

 
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Posted by on 4 Aug 2009


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Most recent comments on "Google Toolbar is Spyware?"

(See all 23 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Tom Owen
10 Aug 2005

Forty years of suffering under the tyranny of IT managerial organizations suggests a simple answer. They do it because they can. As in any other organism, their main purpose is to survive and grow. IT functions properly only when their superiors in the organizational food chain require them to be a service organization rather than a supervisory group. In other words, make them do their jobs rather than build empires.


Posted by:

Phibber McGee
10 Aug 2005

The definitive discussion of this issue (both sides) IMHO can be found at: http://www.spywareinfo.com/articles/googleupdater/


Posted by:

Jeff Gillman
10 Aug 2005

Although I like Google's products, they do house a *lot* of information, and are seeking more (there's no such thing as "free" email, and yes, I do have a GMail account). So they obviously find value in information. So they can *say* whatever they want about not collecting personally-identifying information, but unless everyone is sniffing every packet that gets sent in by the toolbar, we are taking their word for it. And in computer world, your IP address is an identifier, and that certainly is available when data is sent in. Like the old saying goes: "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're *not* out to get you."


Posted by:

Raymond H. Archer
11 Aug 2005

The simple act of collecting client information does not designate a service as "spyware". Selling or otherwise distributing it without clear & concise permission does. Google uses the info they collect for their & your enhancement of service.


Posted by:

Rod
16 Aug 2005

Some thoughts:
1. Not being spyware is not _the_ appropriate criteria for determining whether software can be allowed in an organization. The value of information is context dependent; there are times when simply knowing the sites visited by a competator's employees provides a competative advantage.
2. Given the new data security, recovery, and corporate governance laws (GLBA, HIPPA, SOX, FACTA, PAS56, ISO7799, etc.), it is best to block any software not specifically approved by corporate officers (or the legal department).
3. "Good" companies provide a way for employees to get software approved...
4. Standardizing software reduces support and licensing costs. (It also speeds recovery.)
5. Your work system belongs to your company; it has the right to specify what you run on it. It is stuck with the consiquences of your choices.

These are corporate governance and liability issues. Its easy to forget their impact on your ability to install software on "your" (work) system.


Posted by:

John Robertson
08 Jan 2007

"In order to automatically update this display for each page you visit, the Toolbar sends information about the page you are viewing to the Google servers. Google, Inc. does not collect information that directly identifies you (e.g., your name, email address) and will not sell or provide personally identifiable information to any third parties. We strongly encourage you to read our privacy policy for more information on this topic."

Translating this doublespeak, Google most certainly DOES collect information about you, though it doesn't collect personal info such as your name or e-mail address. What it does collect is a tag that identifies your computer, so that your browsing habits can be tracked. So long as the toolbar is installed you're tracked, evfen if you delete all your cookies, for with the toolbar cookies aren't needed to track you. Look at the toolbar as something like a GPS ankle bracelet that your probation officer provides you with. The Yahoo! toolbar is no different, and ditto for thye Alexa (Altavista) toolbar. When your browser's wearing the "bracelet," participating ad agencies can track you with the help of Google's servers that store all kinds of browsing info.

Never in the history of business has the corporate sleeze factor been as high as it is today. Forget about toolbars, smileys, and all that other garbage that's designed for one purpose: to get you to transfer your money out of your bank account and into someone else's bank account ASAP!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Your claim that "participating ad agencies can track you with the help of Google's servers" is bad-faith speculation... unless you can back up such a claim, it's better not to make it.


Posted by:

bhupen
27 May 2007

I am looking forward to writing about toolbars = spyware on my blog soon, but thought i should let you know this right now!

A program/code that is capable of sending your personal information such as the sites you visit etc which may be after you have used their certain features, the program/code is by the definition of spyware - it really is!

So, enjoy surfing the old days way. No toolbar, no spyware! They are spyware, go read their terms and conditions and see what kind of information they are sending to them and why ? Why can you not have a toolbar for FREE ? perhaps we will get a toolbar that you can BUY?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sorry, but you can't make up your own definition of spyware and declare all toolbars guilty. There are plenty of free toolbars that are quite benign and useful. And I'm sure there are some paid-for toolbars that do nasty things.


Posted by:

Frank B
30 Sep 2007

Seems that most folks have lost sight of a core issue.... your computer at work (and it's associated network connections) is NOT your personal property to do with as you see fit. It, and all the associated resources are the property of the employer. That means it is not ok to do what you want with your assigned tools... you can't install toolbars, or screensavers, or games, or music downloaders, or anything else... et al, ad nauseum. If you want that stuff, put it on your computer at home.

Work computers are configured for ease of administration, and to comply with copyright and other licensing requirements, as well as for required applications to perform assigned tasks, while maintaining the efficiency and integrity of the network. Too bad that there's so many folks who think they are above their employers' rules, and hide behind the mantra of "Invasion of Privacy" or "I'm an adult and I should be trusted to do what I want" to justify their actions. Whether or not Google, or any toolbar is spyware is irrelevant... if the corporate system has determined that such applications are not to be installed on corporate owned equipment, then that should be the end of it.

It also means that you should not expect "personal privacy" when on a corporate computer on a corporate network... so don't do your banking, or send that cute suggestive email to your partner or spouse on an office computer... someone can, and likely will be aware of what you are doing. It is called maintaining "Corporate Security". And, malicious or not, if an application "phones home" for any reason, that's enough to classify it as spyware in my humble opinion.


Posted by:

Jim
14 Mar 2008

FYI, I have had my web history recorded onto another person's google account inadvertantly and without my knowledge. Another person logged onto google from my computer unknown to me and left their account logged in. I then used the computer and had my activity recorded into their google history. That's spyware if you ask me.

I detected the incident sometime later and only by chance was able to change their password and purge their web history.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Okay, but that has nothing to do with the Google Toolbar.


Posted by:

Terrence Morrison
24 Jun 2008

There is a Google Toolbar immitation and it is SPYWARE. If you get infected with Spybot you also get "VistaAntiVirusPro" which embeds itself in the WINDOWS EXPLORER system. You also get "Registry Helper" and "Disk Cleaner" all courtesy of the Spybot programmers. You also get a highjacked version of the Google Toolbar which AUTOMATICALLY takes you into never never land with advertising rammed down your throats. For the disbelievers, go stick your head in the sand and hope that you don't get this one.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm assuming you DO NOT mean "Spybot Search & Destroy" which is a well-known anti-spyware app.


Posted by:

John
20 Aug 2008

I am the Director of IT at my organization and we have a tight policy of NOT allowing programs such as Google Desktop or toolbar to be downloaded onto network computers. The reason for this is that it does relay uncontrolled information outside of the network. The debate about whether or not this information is "personally identifiable" has no concern to me. Rather, it is the fact that it is an uncontrolled information security breach that is the concern. Even "benign" information can come back to haunt an organization.

EDITOR'S NOTE: What sort of "uncontrolled information" are you concerned about?


Posted by:

Your Mom
28 May 2009

You're a complete idiot if you don't realize the sort of "uncontrolled information" a typical corporate user has access to. Take a typical user in a financial organization dealing with EFTs. If that user has access to PCI DSS sensitive info, then some random toolbar the user finds useful also has that access. I don't think you'd be so cavalier in trying to defend a novelty toolbar if you really understood anything about computer security. If an authorized user has access to information any software they run has the same privileges, if not more.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I've worked in corporate settings, and have dealt with sensitive information. But this article is dealing specifically with the question of the Google Toolbar -- not ALL random novelty toolbars. I'll agree that some are a huge risk, perhaps even malware. But do we have ANY evidence to support a claim that Google Toolbar is doing anything evil?


Posted by:

Increase Search Engine Raning
09 Nov 2009

Spyware simply means collecting information on the user. It means software to spy with. Google is just that. Disclosing that they are going to spy on you (because everyone reads the fine print right?) does not negate the type of software that it is or its purpose. GOOGLE IS SPYWARE 100%. Stop misleading people and just call it what it is.

EDITOR'S NOTE: You're welcome to your *opinion* of course, but you can't make up your own facts. By that definition, then EVERY SINGLE website qualifies as a spyware operation. When you visit a website, certain things are logged on the remote web server. This includes your IP address, the date and time, the pages you visit, which browser you use, and the site/page that referred you.


Posted by:

Frank
22 Nov 2009

This is the definition of spyware from the PC Magazine Encyclopedia, very similar to the definition of the poster above, who you accused of making up his own facts. Now there may or may not be other definitions of "spyware" but at least there seems to be some consent here. Furthermore a website wouldn't qualify as spyware since it isn't software. The poster above noted that spyware means "SOFTWARE to spy with".

here goes

"Definition of: spyware

Software that sends information about your Web surfing habits to its Web site. Often quickly installed in your computer in combination with a free download you selected from the Web, spyware transmits information in the background as you move around the Web. Also known as "parasite software," "scumware," "junkware" and "thiefware," spyware is occasionally installed just by visiting a Web site (see drive-by download).

It Might Even Tell You It's Spyware

The license agreement that everyone accepts without reading may actually state that you are installing spyware and explain what it does. For example, it might say that the program performs anonymous profiling, which means that your habits are being recorded, not you individually. Such software is used to create marketing profiles; for example, people who go to Web site "A" often go to site "B" and so on. Spyware may deliver competing products in real time. For example, if you go to a Web page and look for a minivan, an ad for a competitor's vehicle might pop up (see adware)."

http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0,2542,t%3Dspyware&i%3D51898,00.asp

....now let's call a spade a spade. According to the definition of the PC Magazine's Encyclopedia Google's toolbar does qualify as spyware. Perhaps according to your own definitions it doesn't, it would be interesting to know where you got them from.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A website isn't software??? Ask any programmer or web developer and they'll laugh at that! The foundation of EVERY website is the web server, a complex piece of SOFTWARE that "sends information about your Web surfing habits to its Web site."

Your IP address, which was recorded by this website, tells me that you are located in the Madrid region of Spain, likely in the city of Miraflores De La Sierra. Unless you're using some sort of proxy or IP redirection, the IP lookups are quite accurate at providing geophyiscal location data.

I also know that you are using an Intel-based Mac, running OS X 10.6.2 and the Safari web browser. Before you found my site, you went to Google.COM and searched for "toolbars spyware" and clicked the link to my "Google Toolbar is Spyware?" article. About 12 minutes later, you searched for the same keywords at GOOGLE.ES (Google Spain) and returned to my site. You viewed several pages there, and after another 15 minutes you posted this comment.

You should not be shocked at any of those details, because EVERY website on the planet records that same details and more for every visitor.

If you want to classify Google Toolbar as "spyware" and thereby satisfy a personal "Google is Evil" vendetta, then fine. But I maintain that spyware is something that connotes evil intentions. And if you go back to the origins of the genre, you'll see that it was almost universally seen in that light.


Posted by:

Dano
27 Jan 2010

H e l l o ? What does this say:- "...the Toolbar sends information about the page you are viewing to the Google servers." It's got your IP address as well.... Well I wonder what the implications of that are ???

EDITOR'S NOTE: Every time you visit a page on ANY website, your IP address is logged on that server. Your IP address is public info, and that's by design. It doesn't reveal anything about you personally, except the approximate geographic location of your ISP. And sometimes not even that much. See http://askbobrankin.com/does_ip_address_reveal_my_physical_location.html


Posted by:

NonyaBusiness
23 Feb 2010

The Google toolbar IS SPYWARE and the consensus of opinions seem to agree. Now the "EDITOR" may be trying to defend Google for whatever reason but it doesn't change the fact that Google is in the business of gathering data it can use to leverage a greater market share and thus increase it's profits. Where do you think that data comes from?

For that matter, what about some of the other nasties that Google and other websites are now using to gather more data that was previously unavailable to them. For example, that "convient" little box on Googles home page that transmits EVERYTHING you type back to Google regardless of if you actually click the search button. Yahoo and other sites are all doing the same thing and that definitely qualifies as spyware in my book.

My point is that it stands to reason that any company who is in the business of gathering information and is well known for doing questionable things should not be trusted.

Personally, I will absolutely NEVER use toolbars of ANY kind because I am not willing to take the risk.

EDITOR'S NOTE: You fail to realize that ANY software installed on your system has TOTAL access to all your files, and can send & receive info at will. Why do you trust your browser, word processor, or favorite game any more than a toolbar?


Posted by:

D
13 Apr 2012

"Every time you visit a page on ANY website, your IP address is logged on that server."
Of course, but that's completely beside the point in this case. Obviously, there is an enormous difference between independent sites each separately logging IP addresses for visits of that particular site *only*, and a company keeping track of *all* sites visited with a particular IP address. It's called profiling. Knowing one or two sites a person has visited usually tells you little to nothing about their overall behavior. A complete browsing history, on the other hand, is an altogether different matter.

That is why using a single search engine for everything is problematic in and of itself, even without the toolbar. And the toolbar would ideally like to track every page you visit in your browser - be it through one search engine or another, or without any search engine whatsoever. It's what they're made for, ultimately: information gathering and advertisement. Or do you think companies are trying to force their 'amazing' toolbars on you at all corners, including them with all sorts of completely random, independent other software installations, just to make your life easier - out of the goodness of their hearts? Sure, chances are, you can control the most intrusive 'features' of such software *somewhere*; but chances are also that they will be activated by default and unreasonably difficult to turn off. And even that isn't really all that certain anymore.

Ultimately, with every non open-source software, it's always a matter of trust, and, like it or not, toolbars generally tend to belong to the less trustworthy category, simply because of their purpose. And google in particular hasn't exactly made itself appear very trustworthy in recent time, either; what with stunts such as a separately operating updater, that will not only start itself with the computer and call home several times an hour even if none of their software is in use, but is also about as difficult to root out as your average piece of malware. But it's all perfectly legit, of course - people are, after all, informed of its installation in the fine print of the EULA, which, as Google well knows, is dutifully read by each and every user of their software ;)


Posted by:

Brandon
26 Apr 2012

Simply put "yes" the google toolbar is spyware. It collects data about your usage and sends it back to Google. That's the definition of spyware. The only difference is Google tells you they're doing it and you're giving them permission to do it.

However, that didn't stop google from taking advantage of a security hole in Safari and spying on people WITHOUT their knowledge. http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424052970204880404577225380456599176-lMyQjAxMTAyMDEwNjExNDYyWj.html

They've lost all trust... I don't use them for search anymore. Their results are actually getting worse anyway, while Yahoo & Bing have gotten much better.


Posted by:

BD
30 Nov 2012

Looks like the editor is struggling here. Spyware, even when identified as such in user agreements, is still spyware. Through information hoarding and sharing, google is losing users to Bing and other search engines. Maybe it would behoove Google to get the PR department on this.


Posted by:

Nami Fila
02 Oct 2013

Some of you are clueless, spyware doesn't have to collect personal information, by tracking your browsing habits that also constitute the collection of data regardless of it being anonymous, you are still uniquely identified, it doesn't have to be personal information for them to do that; that is how they form patterns about your browsing habit to target ads toward you, that is why it also constitutes "spying"!

Just because it is couched in a excuse of needing this information to update and improve browsing "experience" and etcetera, is merely a by product of the real goal of free software and tool-bars, to track you browsing habits! Just because it is not personal information doesn't mean it is not spying or spyware!


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