back to article Google Toolbar caught tracking users when 'disabled'

Google has updated its browser toolbar after the application was caught tracking urls even when specifically "disabled" by the user. In a Monday blog post, Harvard professor and noted Google critic Ben Edelmen provided video evidence of the Google toolbar transmitting data back to the Mountain View Chocolate Factory after he …


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  1. Peter Fairbrother 1

    Google Phorming

    I don't know much about Google toolbar, but if it's sending the entire URL to Google that's almost certainly an offense under RIPA.

    Anything in a URL after the first single slash (technically, anything beyond that which is necessary to identify the machine the webpage is on, but it's usually considered to be anything after the first slash) is regarded as content, and making content available to others, ie Google, is interception.

    And you can't "opt-in", for the same reasons a Phorm opt-in wouldn't be legal. For interception by consent the express permission of both parties, ie the user and the website, is needed.

    Google ain't getting my permission to look at URL's for my website.

    It's past time for an "evil Google" smilie option on el Reg methinks. Gates and Jobs have them, why not Google?

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Yes except the Toolbar isnt intercepting any communication.

      Its just grabbing a copy of the URL.

      Slight difference.

      1. Peter Fairbrother 1

        Re: Uhh

        It's still interception, as defined in RIPA.

        Note that interception as defined in RIPA doesn't have much to do with the usual meaning of the word interception - there's a whole section (section 2) devoted to defining it for the purposes of the Act.

        The relevant part is ss. 2(8), "contents ... are diverted or recorded so as to be available to a person subsequently".

        The last part of most URLs is defined in ss.2(9)(a) as being content - or rather as not being traffic data - though you have to have some legal knowledge to understand it !

        (Yes, sad b*****d that I am, I do know most of this off by heart)

        1. The Original Ash

          Legal interception

          You gave Google permission to intercept communication when you installed *their* toolbar, accepting *their* terms and conditions. You need both parties consent, or a court order (warrant) to intercept electronic communications, and you gave Google permission when you installed their application.

          Would you like a citation? Sure, Mr "I know RIPA from memory":

          RIPA (2000) Chapter 1, Section 3 (1)(a) a communication sent by a person who has consented to the interception; and

          (b) a communication the intended recipient of which has so consented.

          PageRank requires the entire URL to display the rank of the page you're viewing. It even says so in the Privacy Policy (which I'm sure you've read):

          Enhanced Toolbar Features

          - Toolbar's Enhanced Features, such as PageRank and Sidewiki, operate by sending Google the addresses and other information about sites at the time you visit them.

          - When you use Sidewiki to write, edit or rate an entry, ***the URL of the relevant page***, the type of action that you performed and the text related to that action are sent to Google and stored with your Google Account. Your Sidewiki entries are viewable publicly and associated with your Google profile.

          If you don't like the terms, don't use the software. Stop spreading FUD.

          1. Andrew Penfold

            BOTH parties?

            "You need both parties consent, or a court order (warrant) to intercept electronic communications, and you gave Google permission when you installed their application."

            So you're the 1st party, giving your consent when you install the application. And the provider of the web site you are viewing (the other party) gave their consent how exactly?

          2. Peter Fairbrother 1
            Big Brother

            Re: Legal Interception

            As you point out, Google needs the consent of both the sender and the intended recipient. In this case the sender is usually the user, and the intended recipient is the owner of the webserver, though sometimes it may be the other way round.

            The user may have given consent (though not when he's switched the feature off) but the owner of the webserver most definitely hasn't. Speaking for my websites, I never will.

      2. Greg J Preece

        Take reading lessons

        That's what he said, but nicking full URLs is just as bad. There can be all sorts of stuff in a URL that you don't want tracked - page parameters, session IDs, files you don't want people to know are there, and so on.

        1. Anonymous Coward

 that case

          don't put them in the URL - use a FORM submit instead ...

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Permission Granted...

      READ the EULA!

      If you don't want to, click decline not accept its that simples.

      Nothing like stinky phorm.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        @READ the EULA

        READ the ARTICLE.

        It's doing it WHEN IT HAS BEEN DISABLED BY THE USER, numbnuts.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns


    I don't know why they don't just launch a broadband, mobile phone and land-line package, acquire the Oyster Card system and the ever withering Royal Mail, and spy on us 24/7.

    They could even launch a credit card company (gCredit) and condom range with integrated RFID chips so they they can monitor your sexual activity and radio your DNA back to [data] base when you're done. They could power it by whatever technology Seiko use on their Kinetic range of watches.

    Oh, and gPuppies - comfortable shoes that track your every footstep. And a Picasa branded camera that automatically sends a copy of every photo you ever take back home to gMama. Not to mention gPerv - a child safety service which, once implanted under their skin behind the neck, protects your kids from 99.9% of all known perverts. Come on - can a company that PROTECTS YOUR CHILDREN really be bad? Even a little? If you think so, you must be ONE OF THE PERVERTS!

    1. mr.K
      Thumb Up


      I think you are on to something, but you forgot the garbage collection service gJunk.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        Garbage collection?

        Wouldn't that mean most of Microsoft's output would disappear?

        (and is that a bad thing?)

    2. LinkOfHyrule

      Google Johnnys

      Will the Google Condoms come (pardon the pun) in snazzy colours to match their logo - red, blue, green and yellow?

      Maybe Steve Job's announcement later today is nothing to do with an iTablet - maybe its the new iSheath to compete with the GoogleDom! "Trying not to get up the duff? There's an app for that!"

      I just hope Microsoft doesn't get in on the act - The birth rate would sky rocket and all the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation's hard work will be undone! Last thing anyone needs is their rubbers blue screening or a little paper clip popping up and saying "I see you're trying to have sex, can I help you with that?" and probably puncturing the latex with his pin like body!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "These condoms are a beta release

        you shouldn't use them for mission-critical tasks"

      2. Secretgeek

        Owe me....keyboard.


  3. mark2010


    Thanks for sharing [IMG][/IMG]

  4. Anonymous Coward

    You don't just disable Google Toolbar

    You uninstall it, along with every other toolbar that might come near your Internet browser.

    I deeply hate those toolbar pests and I feel sorry for each and every one of the people I know who end up having 4 or 5 of them at the same time in their browser, without even knowing how they got them and what is their purpose.

    1. Robin 2
      Thumb Up

      or knowing they are there

      "without even knowing how they got them and what is their purpose."

      I would add: "and without even knowing these toolbars are add-ons not native to the browser".

    2. Adrian Challinor

      You don't just disable Google Toolbar

      Or even - ohh this is scary - not trust IE to be secure. That was the first shock, someone concerned about security using MS products.

      Mines the one with SE-Linux Master Class book in the pocket.

  5. JBH

    Hate the Google toolbar...

    ...infact ANY toolbar.

    I won't let 'em within ten miles of my browser. Utterly useless trinkets, the only point of which is to try and tie you into a particular brand.

    The amount of software that has irrelevant toolbars thrown in these days is appalling. It makes me want to go all open-source and grow a beard!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hate the Google toolbar

      "The amount of software that has irrelevant toolbars thrown in these days is appalling. It makes me want to go all open-source and grow a beard!"

      That's not a panacea, sadly. For example PDFCreator excretes a toolbar onto your browser by default.

    2. Nick Thompson

      Open source

      "The amount of software that has irrelevant toolbars thrown in these days is appalling. It makes me want to go all open-source and grow a beard"

      My experience is that open source software seems to be more likely to try and install toolbars. Case in point, yesterday pdfcreator (the one from sourceforge) wanted to install Yahoo toolbar.

    3. nematoad Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re. Hate the Googlebar

      It makes me want to go all open-source and grow a beard!

      Ah, beards are not compusory especially for the ladies!

      I did note that the bug/feature is only applicable to MS IE.

      Score one for Firefox.Seamonkey, Opera etc then.

    4. The Fuzzy Wotnot

      Muppets with "toolbars"

      Waste of screen space too! I run my browser (FF) in kiosk, full screen mode on my tiny notebook I need all the space I can get , the last thing you need is this privacy invading, CPU wasting, screen filling BS trinket!

      Stop feeling the need to ally with a brand you brain-dead muppets! "Oh, define me! Define me! I feel a spiritual bond with Google, Starbucks, Apple, whatever-wank, etc! They speak to me in ways people can't or don't!", yeah 'cos you're a f**king idiot, that's why people won't speak to you anymore!


  6. jake Silver badge



    Just say no to google. It's an accident waiting to happen.

    1. Ihre Papiere Bitte!!


      Not at all. It's a Feature...

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Google (performance clobbering) Toolbar

      Why would any intelligent user want any add-on surplus toolbar which does God knows what "under the covers", potentially clobbering your PC's performance. The stuff provided with good browsers give you the tools to do most things. (Don't get me started on Smileys, though!).

      Like the man says - "Say no to Google" - Just use their search engine.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        You Got It In One!

        Why would any INTELLIGENT user want any add-on surplus tool bar.

        Google (Bing, Yahoo, Ask et al) ar NOT interested in "intelligent" users because they know they are blocking ad's, rejecting cookies and disembowling toolbars.

        Google (Bing, Yahoo, Ask et al) are after the MILLIONS of people who want:

        "Free" animated smiley's in their chat session (Click, yes I agree, click, yes I'll have the Bing toolbar),

        "Free" PDF reader (Click, yes I agree, click, yes I'll have the Yahoo toolbar), a "free" something "free" useless piece of shite (Click, yes I agree, click, yes I'll have the whatever tool bar you are offering)

        You see we are all very clever on the El Reg forums and self righteous and brand aligned (regardless of your choice of phone, O/S, browser etc, lets face it everyone who doesn’t use the same as you is a fucking idiot right) but these toolbars rely on MILLIONS of people NOT CARING or not KNOWING what they are PAYING for their "free" software

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    bears shit in the woods

    It's a browser toolbar, of course it's spying on you.

    Browser toolbars were designed to be thinly veiled spyware delivery systems from day one. Show me one that DOESN'T spy on you and I'll show you a news worthy article.

    1. A. Coatsworth Silver badge

      In other news...

      ... people comment on an article without even reading the title

      The whole point of the article is that the google bar keeps spying on the user even when it is *disabled* as in "the disable button doesn't work and is giving the user a false sense of security"

      Everybody knows the toolbars are spyware, but if you disable it you'd expect it to stay DISABLED

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    JBH has it right

    Just don't install toolbars - any of them.

    I'm still surprised to see Yahoo! malware included in the Java JRE...

  9. Anonymous Coward


    Or designed in?

    More likely the later and then...ooops we got found out, let's pretend it's a mistake.

    Anyone that thinks that Googles logo is Do No Evil is a promise to be good, rememeber this, evil is a subjective word.

    The gaining as much knowledge and wealth as possible could be seen as a good thing to some, but I tend to disagree.

  10. My Alter Ego

    Re: Everyone hating the Google toolbar

    Funny, it's the first thing I add to Firefox on a new install. I disable every feature on it apart from the "Find & Highlight words on the page" option, I couldn't live without that. It's so much easier to find the keywords I've searched for on a page than having to re-type the in to the find toolbar,

    Any other toolbar is banished from my machine.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Are you sure?

      My computer highlights the words I searched for and I don't have any toolbar whatsoever, and I'm fairly sure it's not one of my addons. I thought that was just something google did when you navigated to a page from a search.

      1. My Alter Ego

        @Iron Oxide

        Just gave it a go with the Google toolbar disabled, and there was no highlighting when following links from Google. I know certain sites do highlighting, but they tend to be forums and the search terms are appended to the URI. Actually, I've never liked the highlighting as it makes it harder to read, but the keyword find function is bloody handy.

        Google chrome didn't do keyword find either, and I didn't even bother trying with IE as even if it did do what I wanted, I still wouldn't use it.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    la la la Google tool ba....oh I see!

    Let the evil doing, BEGIN!


  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The first thing I do when fixing PC's is uninstall all the toolbars and such.

    I recall one PC where the owner was using a 32" screen because he had so many toolbars using up his page space.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Please tell me if I'm missing something...

    ...but don't a large number of browsers now have a "search" box in the toolbar anyway - without any intervention from Google, Bing (lol) or anyone else?

    If a toolbar comes within a million miles of my browser then I remove it (and then scour the registry for nasties because I've had experiences of them mysteriously reinstalling themselves after every reboot)

  14. Richard Jukes
    Thumb Down

    How long...

    How long till we all have to have our brains scanned by the new gWhatIsInSideYourHeadMachine?

  15. McDragon


    OK, I am going against the grain of the rest of the posts here but I do give Google the benefit of the doubt and saying that this could be a bug. Considering the size of Google and the amount of programmers they have at hand I find it quite unacceptable.

    I would agree with JBH in the fact that I completely dislike the concept of toolbars and how they are forced down our throats. Come on, who in his right mind does not get pi**ed off whenever there is a Java update and that sodding Yahoo toolbar option is always ticked.

  16. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    What about the AV angle?

    So apparently there's been some spyware in broad circulation for ages and NONE of the AV companies have picked it up? We're always being told that these products watch out-going traffic as well as incoming, so if they work as advertised (a big "if") then it must have shown up in the AV companies' labs. Whilst I can understand that they wouldn't respond by black-listing Google, I would certainly have expected them to *report* the behaviour as a bug. The fact that they didn't proves that their anti-spyware credentials are worthless.

  17. The BigYin

    What is it for anyway?

    I've got the plugins I want to play with on my customised (native) toolbar, I have my search box (where I can change sources) and I have my address bar (well, "Wow bar" or whatever).

    WTF does Google toolbar give me? The weather? Don't need that; I can look outside, check clock in the panel or have a glance at conky.

    Security/Privacy? That's what NoScript, AdBlock, TrackMeNot etc. are for.

    Local search? Well I appear to have Catfish for that...but I've never used it (yet - I generally have documents in a proper doc management system).

    So....WTF does the Google Toolbar give me? Other than an attack on my personal privacy of course.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What is the point...

    ...of Google toolbar? Or any of those type of toolbars? Always been a complete mystery to me. Why on earth would anyone need it? I don't get it, at all.

    I want to search the net, I go to Scroogle/Altavista/binsearch or whatever.

    If I want to check the weather, I go to the BBC weather site, and so on...

    Are people really that lazy they need everything on a bar at the top of the screen? Beats me!

  19. ChessGeek

    Bug? Pah!

    It's not a bug - or at least it wasn't until they got caught.

    No free toolbars for me, thanks. They're too expensive.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Just don't install any crapware "browser toolbars".

    Hell, the amount of things that try and ram the yagoo toolbar down your throat, too, is getting astounding. Tinfoil hats on, I don't trust any of them not to do something bad, whether through malice or just through sheer incompetance.

  21. luxor

    What's a toolbar?

    Just joking. I know what they are and if I get my hands on a PC with them I uninstall them.

    Never had one on my PC though as an Opera user it's something I never have to worry about.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An offenced under DPA 1998, BUT........

    dont think that wanker called the ICO will do anything about it because, from my own experience, they are just not interested in doing anything about anyone that breaches the DPA at all. Seriously, dont bother Notifying the ICO because even if they catch you without registration all you need to do is smile and say you didnt know you had to and thats it . Really the DPA is a big big joke.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Toolbars and tattoos

    Toolbars and Tattoos are very similar in that the pleb getting them thinks they are going to be so different from all the other plebs, but in point of fact it just identifies them as a pleb. Also the same in so much as once you've got them and the novelty has worn off, they wished they'd never done it in the first place. The only reason for ever having a tattoo is perhaps to show a blood group. Toolbars? search your computer too pfft get a an operating system with a decent search facility, like spotlight

  24. Doug Glass

    One For The Children

    If it offends you, uninstall it. If you don't want to uninstall it; live with it. If you just can't bring yourself to uninstall it or live with it; grow up.

    1. markp 1

      that's all good but

      ...what if it doesn't LET you uninstall it? Even .Net fails with that in some cases.

      I've seen it accidentally worm its way onto a colleagues machine along with desktop search (forgot to disable a "do you also want X?" pushy-offer in some update for another prog) and there's no way of not continuing with the process of it reaching its tendrils into your machine. At startup there's just a notifier, and an OK button ... no cancel.

      Don't trust these buggers any further than you can throw them, it's very easy to say words, and only a fool would believe that everything said or written has honest intent behind it.

  25. Firefox Russ

    About That Time

    It's about time Google were brought to task for all their invasions of privacy. Quite why they can get away with what they do is beyond me.

  26. Cucumber C Face

    GoogleToolbarNotifier.exe anyone?

    If it's this little charmer phoning home - you'll be lucky to disable or remove it from your system permanently with a 25kg sledgehammer.

  27. James Hughes 1


    All that Google bashing.

    Nobody mentioned the fact that a bug was reported in a piece of Google software and they had released a fix for it within a day. It wasn't even a 'security' fault, in the usual meaning of the word.

    That's pretty good really, whether you like Google or not.

    1. Raz


      If this is a bug, it means Google has no software QA. Which I don't believe.

    2. Tzael

      Re: Blimey

      Knowing Google they probably put a flag in the compiler options so they could punt out a 'fix' promptly if anyone noticed! Seriously though, I doubt this bug went unnoticed by Google's own staff whether they are developers of the toolbar or the people analysing the supplied data that is Google's life blood.

    3. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
      Big Brother

      A Bug?, really!!!

      Or is just a "feature" they turned off.....

      Big brother icon 'nach.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @James Hughes 1

    That assumes that you truly believe it was a "bug", and not something Google hoped they could sneak through under our noses without anybody noticing.

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