Once in a while, Google issues things that are really quite surprising. A couple of weeks back, that little surprise was the Google Browser Sync, an extension for popular open source browser Mozilla Firefox.
While there are extensions like Foxclouds’ Foxmarks that let you synchronise your locally stored bookmarks to various other installations of a browser, Google attempts to go all the way and lets you sync not only your bookmarks, but also your cookies, saved passwords, open tabs and history.
Now, this is a rather complete approach. And it’s a bit problematic as well. Why? Well, it took years and years to lecture people about the necessity of securing a computer when accessing the web. And suddenly there’s a company like Google issuing a tool that not only sends your settings all through the web whenever you open up your browser, it also stores all that information online.
While I’m sure that Google does their damnest to secure user accounts, I’m also well aware of the fact that people will always be people. In an age when phishing has become a common threat to people’s security, giving out a Google account password to a malicious stranger is something that can and will happen to loads of people. Once that password is out, in a worst case scenario, the victim is now confronted with a compromised account including an e-mail account, search histories, bookmarks, saved passwords, cookies, adsense details, etc.
That threat of a compromised online identity has of course existed before the advent of Google’s syncing extension, but to pick up one of the Freaconomics themes, the incentive for the bad guys has just become a lot stronger.
I wouldn’t be me, had I not a thing about interoperability to add.
Firefox is a cross-OS browser, meaning I can use it on Linux and Windows. This is great, and Google’s synchronisation extension is a nice tool to keep all my stuff together. It is a bad tool if it doesn’t properly work with Linux. And well, that’s the case here.
Using Firefox 1.5 in a KDE environment, Google sync is unable to sync and dies after trying to upload my stuff. I tried syncing just my bookmarks, or cookies, or history, none worked. Considering Google’s vast infrastructure, being unable to cope with my preferences seems a tad baffling.