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The next step in data security

With the hope of returning at least one corner of the web to its non-commercial roots, Google watcher Daniel Brandt, who curates the NameBase archive, has released the source code to a Google scraper. Brandt has been making an ad-free proxy available for two years using Google's little known minimal "ie" interface. By using this proxy, users bypass both Google's notorious "2038" cookie (that's when it expires) and the text ads.

Brandt fully expects Google to throw legal and technical resources at him, but says he welcomes the challenge if only to clarify copyright issues. Google took people's free stuff and made a $50 billion business from it, he argues.

"The commercialization of the web became possible only because tens of thousands of noncommercial sites made the web interesting in the first place," he writes. "All search engines should make a stable, bare-bones, ad-free, easy-to-scrape version of their results available for those who want to set up nonprofit repeaters. Even if it cuts into their ad profits slightly, there's no easier way to give back some of what they stole from us."

He explains in more detail in the source code: "Legally, Google probably has the right to block anyone they want. And legally, we believe that as a tiny nonprofit with an interest in Google's violations of privacy, we have the right to access Google's publicly-available data any way we want. If you want to argue about copyright, then let's start with the fact that Google scrapes billions of web pages and doesn't ask permission before making the cache copies available. Thiss craping is used as a carrier for the ads that make Google stinkin' rich.

"Now that, in our opinion, is an interesting copyright issue. As this is written, Google has a market cap of $55bn. This exceeds the market cap of General Motors and Ford combined. Google is probably the single largest information resource on the planet, and they're getting rich off of us. It's time for Google to give something back to the public sector."

The source code, which runs on Linux, asks the users only to use the program for non-commercial purposes.

"We think it would be splendid if scraping Google for nonprofit purposes, and stripping out their wretched advertising, was established someday as an acceptable, legal practice."

In the week since it launched, the source code has been downloaded about a hundred times a day says Brandt.

Google would rather you licensed its beta Web API. However, as Charles Ferguson writing in MIT Technology Review noted recently, the service is "laughably limited" to 1,000 queries a day, and offers little functionality; Google has let the offering languish.

You can find the code here [ZIP archive, 16kb], an explanation here and try out the proxy here. ®

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