If You Love/Hate Gmail You’ll Love/Hate This

So Google has now come out with a proxy service they call Web Accelerator. Basically what this means is you configure your browser to point to Google’s servers and they attempt to serve you web pages and images faster than the actual sites you’re viewing would have been able to. This isn’t new; in fact it’s very similar to the cache already employed by your browser. The trick is, now there’s a new cache: on Google’s servers. There are many potential problems with this, but the central one I can see people getting up-in-arms about is–as usual with Google–privacy.

Most people already use Google in lieu of typing URLs and maintaining “favorites” lists–it’s just faster. So Google already pretty much knows where you’re spending your time online. If you use gmail, then Google is also reading your mail. Now they’re theoretically going to see every byte you surf, with a few exceptions. Can you feel that slippery slope starting to kick in yet? Yeah, I’m not sure either. I will say that the performance improvements will need to be significant–just as they have been with gmail–to justify using this service. Having used other proxy-like “web accelerators” in the past, I’m skeptical but maintaining an open mind. Especially since they’re employing “pre-fetching” which is a truly great, and as I remember somewhat controversial, technology that pulls down web content you might never view just so you can have it show up on your screen super-fast when you do click it. Perhaps I’ll be brave enough to try this thing at some point. If anyone else tries it, let me know what you think.

As a side note, from a web-developer perspective, there are some pretty good reasons to avoid proxy and cache altogether. Also, webmasters, let me know if the Google proxy starts turning up in your server logs and/or breaks your stats package. This could be like AOL all over again for us tech heads. Ugh.

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