Google Web Accelerator Draws Concern

Google's release of its Web Accelerator has caused growing concern among some developers that it may actually do more harm than good. In order to speed up Web surfing, the tool automatically downloads URLs linked from the page a user is visiting, which means it might load administrative links for editing or deleting content.

The issue was discovered when users of Backpack, a service designed to organize information for individuals and small businesses in a wiki-like format, complained that their Web pages were suddenly disappearing.

Jason Fried of 37signals, the company behind Backpack, discovered that all the complainants had one thing in common - they had downloaded Google's Web Accelerator.

"Google is essentially clicking every link on the page — including links like 'delete this' or 'cancel that.' And to make matters worse, Google ignores the JavaScript confirmations," Fried wrote in the company's Web log. "So, if you have a 'Are you sure you want to delete this?' JavaScript confirmation behind that 'delete' link, Google ignores it and performs the action anyway."

Fried called it "disconcerting" that Google Web Accelerator was ignoring these confirmations because of the potential destructive power to customer information it could cause. "Google’s web accelerator seems like a good thing for the public web, but it can wreak havoc on web-apps and other things with admin-links built into the UI," he argued.

Deleting content isn't the only potential problem caused by Google's Web Accelerator. Members of Internet forums using the tool have found themselves loading pages previously cached by other users - meaning they can view that user's account information and private messages. Google Web Accelerator uses caching to speed up the loading of Web pages.

Although developers can forcibly tell Google not to cache a page, some have opted to block Web Accelerator all together to avoid violations of privacy.

Other, less critical issues have cropped up as well. Because Google Web Accelerator can prefetch Web sites that are never viewed by a user, it can inflate page view numbers, or even cause phantom views of advertising banners.

Because all traffic is routed through Google, Web site owners have also expressed concern about tracking where visitors are coming from, called referrer data. "My second question was whether or not this would affect referrer reporting as requests are being made on behalf of Google. But apparently your IP is still forwarded," said a 37signals user. "I'm still not sure if this will actually retain the referrer data."

Google could not be reached for comment by press time.

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