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Google puts the brake on Web Accelerator

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Google has disabled downloads of its Web Accelerator software less than a week after introducing the service. The suspension follows reports that the software was caching sensitive content, such as user control panels to online forums.

The beta application, a free browser plug-in that for use with IE 5.5 and above or Firefox 1.0 on Win 2000 or XP, is designed to speed up online surfing. Google stopped downloads on 11 May just six days after its 5 May release saying that the capacity limit of the trial had been reached. "We have currently reached our maximum capacity of users and are actively working to increase the number of users we can support," it said in a statement on the Web Accelerator home page.

The technology used information including data about user search patterns to pre-fetch and cache frequently requested content, thereby speeding access to (basic) web content. Analyst Gartner said the application had limited appeal because it wouldn't help to download media files any faster. It wasn't long before privacy activists started raising questions of their own about the service.

Aside from giving Google unprecedented insight into user's surfing habits the application came under fire from punters for caching sensitive information, such as user control panels from forums. As a result surfers with the software installed reported they were getting logged onto forums such as SomethingAwful.com as other users. There's no suggestion that online banking records on other content from secure ecommerce sites was turning up in the cache. The disquietening behaviour seems to be limited to sites visited by many other beta users of the software.

Google has s yet to respond to our repeated requests for comment. ®

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