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Kaiser Permanente Warns about Google Desktop

I woke up this morning with flu symptoms: aches, fever, exhaustion, headache, stuffy nose, and cough. Even though common wisdom is that there isn’t much to be done for me that I can’t do for myself, this unfortunate, but fortunately rare, event–I haven’t been sick for at least five years–was my cue to belatedly get my act together and use the Kaiser website to register for a new general practitioner and a new gynecologist, something that felt a little like online dating. I was encouraged to read brief bios and browse the doctors’ “home pages,” complete with photos (will my prospective doctors Google me, I wonder?).

While wandering around the Kaiser site, looking for the magic influenza cure that doesn’t exist (I know, I know: fluids, rest, pain relievers, and a good page-turner), I stumbled over this not-too-brief warning about Google Desktop. The explanation starts, “If you’ve downloaded Desktop Search onto your computer, you should be aware of a security issue that may allow others to view personal information―such as credit card and Medical/Health Record numbers―that you’ve provided on secure Web pages, even those that are password-protected.”

I was impressed that Kaiser cared enough to warn its users that Google Desktop might retain medical information on the “wrong” computer. Imagine trying to surreptitiously make an appointment or read medical vacation while home with the folks. It’s an interesting document, and I recommend you read Kaiser’s advice and think about public computers.

That got me to-thinkin’ about this computer, which is an ailing box I plan to replace in January. Give my hard drive back to Dell? Ay, Carumba! I will take this hard drive with me to my grave, or when I change PCs I will smash it to smithereens, or it will go in my safe deposit box for the rest of my life, for my executor to deal with, but that hard drive brimming with information about me sure as shootin’ isn’t going in the hands of strangers. I don’t do anything bad on it, honest. I just don’t want to share my personal information with anyone else, particularly without my knowledge.

I love Google Desktop, but like many tools, it has its unintended consequences. If there is a library left in this country that hasn’t buttoned down its public computers (or staff computers!) so software such as Google Desktop can’t be installed, please make securing your computers your New Year’s resolution. If you don’t know where to get started doing that, leave a comment on this blog or write me personally at kgs at bluehighways dot com, and I’ll give you an assist (as soon as I’m up and at ’em again).

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