Jump to main navigation, main content

Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

Content Management Systems, and Google Web Accelerator

MattWilcox.net and CMS’s

Well, I have more or less decided I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and re-code MattWilcox.net again. I can’t face losing all the content from the last three or four years by shifting over to WordPress, or TextPattern, or Movable Type, or Symphony - as great as those applications are, and as much as I’d like to play with all of them. As I’ve said before, I’m a geek at heart and I like to know exactly what’s going on in the code. Using a third party system means I don’t know what’s going on, and most of those applications are produced by some seriously talented experts who use techniques I can’t understand yet. Also, if a feature of those applications is good enough to intrigue me then I’ll learn it for myself and bolt it into MattWilcox.net (as I did by adding RSS support, and before that by adding a comment system). That way I get to understand how it all works. I definitely have intentions to ‘get in bed’ with this new-fangled AJAX stuff myself, once I receive my new book.
Having said all that I’m still keeping my eye on Symphony and TextPattern, both of which look like very clever applications that I could use in future projects. If there wasn’t all my back-content to consider I’d likely use one of the two to power this website. In fact I might see if porting back content is feasible with these two…

Google Web Accelerator: do no evil?

As many of you will know by now (especially if you keep track of my ‘Of The Moment’ column on the homepage) Google have released a new tool by way of their Google Labs Beta program: the Google Web Accelerator. For once, I think Google have broken with their motto: ‘Do no Evil’. I’ve been following the blogosphere closely on this one, and it’s kicking up one hell of a fuss.

The aim of the utility is to speed up browsing of the Internet. It works by monitoring all of your Internet activity, sending your URL requests off to Google and supplying the page to your browser from Google’s cache instead of from the real webpage. It works on the premise that Googles huge resources will be faster than whatever website you’re actually trying to view. That in itself is something I find a little dodgy - it means wherever you go, Google know you’ve been there. If you look at their privacy policy it transpires that Google also own whatever get’s cached on their machines. Yes, if you read your Email online and use the Accelerator - Google own a copy of it. It is their Email now. It gets worse, because another thing the Web Accelerator does is effectively click on every link that’s on any page you visit. It does this so it can load all of those links into Google’s cache, so it’s ready and waiting to be sent to you if you happen to click on one of those links. So, if you’re in a CMS back end, the Web Accelerator will click every link. That includes ‘delete mail’. Users have reported many cases of missing email, Basecamp and forum errors because Web Accelerator is clicking every administrator link on a page. To make that even worse the Accelerator ignores JavaScript prompts. Where you would need to click ‘OK’ to confirm you want to delete a mail - Web Accelerator doesn’t. It just deletes it.

It gets worse. Remember how Google own a copy of anything you view through the utility? It all gets indexed for search too - which means any PM you read is freely available to anyone who searches for it. As is all your email. As is anything else you look at which could be private material. Google claim to not cache https:// links, so in theory your bank account details ought not be stored - but there have been whispers of errors on this.

Clearly this utility creates some seriously big problems. It will break a lot of Web Applications, delete content, and completely bypasses your privacy. What’s even worse is the very concept of what it aims to achieve is critically flawed. By clicking on every link on every page you visit in order to cache it the Accelerator actually increases traffic to the site by orders of magnitude - which makes the site slower. It also skews advertising revenue by generating huge quantities of false clicks. And if a user views your webpage - well, Google now own a copy of whatever content there is on that page. google doesn’t look at when a webpage was last updated either, and users can end up looking at out of date copies of your webpage as served by Google Cache rather than your real one - and the end user will not know.

Google are trying to address a problem which doesn’t even exist - I don’t know about you, but viewing pages on broadband is not slow, and even if you feel it were, retrieving the page from Google’s cache instead of the real site will only shave a few percentage points off speed. It feels more like Google is trying to create it’s own copy of the Internet, which it will then own, as opposed to helping Internet users.

Bad Google!


skip to comment form
  1. Laura posted 8min, 16sec after the entry and said:

    Good report!

    *leaves with a great deal more knowledge than she came in with* smiley icon: smile


  2. James Dodd posted 3hrs, 6min, 12sec after the entry and said:

    I am also concerned about Google’s intentions with it’s web accelerator, but I don’t know why I am, the solution is simple - dont use it!

    I started to be wary of the big G when I heard the terms and conditions for GMail. Spooky.

    Matt btw that Ajax article was very interesting, Thumbs up for pointing that out for me!

  3. Matt Wilcox posted 3hrs, 51min, 16sec after the entry and said:

    Yeah, a good solution to not use it - but no use at all if you’re a website owner. Anyone who visits your website with GWA installed will mean Google end up with a copy of your site on it’s servers, and they own it. Dodgy hmm?

  4. MWF posted 5hrs, 39min, 50sec after the entry and said:

    They don’t strictly own it, they own the copy. Your intelectual property rights still stand so they cannot, for instance, publish it in a book and make money off it. It’s no different to you printing out a Web site. You own the print out, you do not own what’s printed on it.

  5. Matt Wilcox posted 6hrs, 4min, 26sec after the entry and said:

    That’s what I was saying dude, they own a copy of your website.

    The trouble with that is they index it for searching (even your no-cache, no-index, hidden-behind-authentication-systems webpages) and then they also redistribute it. I am fairly sure that re-distribution of copyrighted material without owners consent is -not- legal. I’m damned certain indexing private documents and allowing public access to them via way of the ‘copy’ is morally wrong, if not legally wrong.

    There is an objection being filed with the US government I think, but I’m unable to find the link where I first read that.

  6. James Dodd posted 18hrs, 10min, 34sec after the entry and said:

    The more I read on this the more I get annoyed and concerned about what this application could do to the web if the application becomes widely used.

  7. MWF posted 21hrs, 18min, 18sec after the entry and said:

    It’s just a bug in the software, I doubt Google are insterested in turning the world against themselves just to read a few PM’s. If it was a small operation with the same problem nobody would care. But because Google have become a large corporation they are considered evil.

  8. Matt Wilcox posted 21hrs, 23min, 51sec after the entry and said:

    True Chris, but if it were a small company with a low rate of users there wouldn’t be the impact that this has. When you’re a company the size of Google any error you make has a corrispondingly large knock-on effect - more people see the error and it gets a far higher rate of attention. You get that big and you can’t afford to make errors.

    Google have taken the app down and admited to ’serious’ bugs in the application. It should not have been released in this state, even as a beta. Their Privacy Policy could do with being made more clear too.

  9. MWF posted 1 days, 0hrs, 20mins after the entry and said:

    I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Google obviously didn’t realise the issue existed as there’s no way the would have released it with these bugs. They have pulled back the release so what more do people want?

    The fact is big corporations can never win as far as Internet users are concerned. If it was FireFox related everyone would be defending it.

    The software just exposes security vunerabilities that shouldn’t be there in the first place. The privacy policy is sound, they don’t employee laywers for nothing. It’s just a typical Internet overeaction.

    If it had been Yahoo or Microsoft it would have been even worse.

  10. Matt Wilcox posted 1 days, 1hrs, 26mins after the entry and said:

    “They have pulled back the release so what more do people want?” - I believe that was all they wanted in the first place, until Google think it through a lot better.

  11. James Dodd posted 5 days, 8hrs, 21mins after the entry and said:

    I’m with Matt on this one Chris, the intentions of this app really did/do look suspicious to me.

From the archives

Other enteries filed under:

Web Development

Site information

Built with valid XHTML and CSS, designed with web standards and accessibility in mind. Best viewed in a modern browser [Firefox, Safari, Opera]

This domain and all content is a copy of my old website, for historical purposes only.