Google Safe Browsing Slows Firefox While Feeding the Tiger

Just upgraded to Mozilla Firefox version 3.0.5. Not sure if that is the latest version or not. This post is not about that.

This post is about Firefox silently using Google’s Safe Browsing technology. I do not specifically remember the installation process, but I am pretty sure that Firefox enabled both “Tell me if the site I’m visiting is a suspected attack site” and “Tell me if the site I’m visiting is a suspected forgery”. This all has to do with the proliferation of phishing.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate phishing as much as the next guy, blah, blah, blah…

But, I did not expect Firefox to automatically send any information about my web browsing history to a third party without my express knowledge and consent.

I do not want to sound like a Google hater, but as a Search Engine Optimization professional, I have been burned by Google repeatedly. So many of our original content sites have been summarily dropped from the search engine results pages by Google. As the author of the content we have been kicked out of the index, while Google happily allows the plagiarizing, quick-buck con artists to remain — only to profit from content they stole from us.

On a similar note, it is hard to trust the mighty Google. Long story short, Google is aggregating user information and behavior patterns by the boatload — for unspecified purposes. By “helping” and then directly competing with webmasters, online marketers and SEO professionals, Google systematically wipes them off the internet. In short, Google operates as an unregulated monopoly with too much power over winners and losers on the internet.

Big words, of course, as I digress…

Nevertheless, perhaps it is better to let the folks over at MacWorld say it much more elegantly in the following article. And “no” I do not use a wimpy Mac! ;)

Networking must be transparent to earn your confidence… when you visit a page in your Web browser, you expect your computer to get the IP address from your DNS server, get the page from the Web server, and get all of the assets for the page (images, movies, and so on) from their locations as specified in the page’s source. You do not expect your browser to also tell Google, or even Apple itself, what you’re doing.

I understand that wise readers may say that the phishing problem is so bad that something drastic must be done. Others may say that Google is providing a valuable service to the public. And it is a benefit to have the features enabled by default in Firefox and other browsers.

I say that this is all good. But I also must insist on transparency and a clear explanation of data sharing (with Google and/or others). The “option” in Mozilla Firefox to share data with Google should be disabled by default with an opportunity to opt-in after full disclosure.

The unintended consequence as it was for me is a severely slow Firefox. My firefox was running very slow.

After searching the net for a solution to “Firefox slow“, I noticed that most of the answer-guys were recommending that Firefox slow users enable the following through the about:config setting for Firefox:

  • network.http.pipelining
  • network.http.proxy.pipelining
  • network.http.pipelining.maxrequests

Wrong!

Enabling pipelining only masks the problem and does not address the root cause. The root cause of the slow Firefox for me was the “secret” exchange of data with Google which chews up memory and impedes performance.

I disabled the following and am now running fast and free on Firefox:

  • “Tell me if the site I’m visiting is a suspected attack site”
  • “Tell me if the site I’m visiting is a suspected forgery”

You can find this under “Tools” > “Options” > “Security” for Mozilla Firefox version 3.0.5.

I predict that the Mozilla Foundation will abandon the use of Google’s Safe Browsing technology in future versions of the browser. Turning over more data to Google is not the end-game for most end-users.

Eventually, folks will realize that Google’s Safe Browsing technology is both flawed and ineffective, given the guerrilla tactics employed by phishers.

In the meantime, you can be sure that Google will continue to happily gobble all available user-data. There is, after all, a hungry tiger to feed…

safebrowsing clients google com firefox, safebrowsing clients google com

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8 Responses to “Google Safe Browsing Slows Firefox While Feeding the Tiger”

  1. Kinda pisses me off that FireFox did this automatically.
    I suppose GooBle is trying to but them out, huh?

    GREAT POST !!!

    I couldn’t even buy some Corelle dishes because of big Bro
    monitoring where I was at on the web.

  2. I agree with you and your concern. There is no excuse for this ugly big brother tactic. Especially since unchecking those 2 boxes in version 3.0.7 does NOT stop it from connecting to safebrowsing.clients.google.com and trafficing information without permission. I find it abusive, offensive, and the same threat as the perverts they pretend to be protecting us from. Do you know any way to destroy this nasty “feature”?

  3. Jerry,

    At some point, we were advocating moving to another browser.

    However there are not many viable alternatives, so job #1 for the web surfer becomes understanding existing web browsing tools and how they help you and how they hurt you.

    Microsoft Internet Explorer

    Before Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer was the browser of choice for many. But in all honesty, IE seems like a giant step backwards – security wise. With that said, we do find ourselves using IE more and more often.

    Even though they are hated for being so large and successful, we patiently await the day when Microsoft, the sleeping Internet tiger, awakens to present Google with a real corporate challenge.

    We have given up on Yahoo.

    From our perspective, Microsoft is now more trustworthy than Google. Never heard of Microsoft-sponsored spyware. But maybe we are overly biased given our role as SEO professionals.

    Opera Browser

    We recently installed Opera, but that installation lasted exactly 53 minutes before we permanently removed it from our system. Opera was short-lived on our system due to affiliate links built into the browser. Super shady…

    Anti-Google?

    Anyway here are some ultra geeky things to look into if you are anti-Google:

    • Disable Google cookies – this can be done from proxy software on the client or from within your browser as well. Google adds a unique identifier (GUID) in their cookies to track your search engine use and perhaps even your browsing history.
    • Block “google-analytics.com” – using the “hosts” file on Windows (route it to 127.0.0.1). Many websites use free visitor tracking software from Google called “Google Analytics”, but guess what? Google gives with one hand (free software) and then takes with the other (gathers data). So Google retains full access to detailed visitor logs from the hoards of webmasters that install Google Analytics software on their websites for the benefit of knowing more about their visitors. As a web-surfer, if you can block the “google-analytics.com” domain name, then you surf-free from Google spying. At least until Google changes the game…
    • If you are a webmaster, avoid using any of the “free” online applications from Google, such as Google Analytics, G-mail as well as Google Adsense. As far as Adsense is concerned, unless you are already banking thousands of dollars per month, the pennies Google Adsense pays webmasters is not worth the effort for what you have to give up (i.e. detailed visitor traffic information about your website). Do you really trust Google not to compete with you? Hint: Google already undermines webmasters by manipulating the search engine results, strategically placing advertisements and using your visitor data against you. In addition, the more than occasional website ban or the threat thereof keeps most webmasters in check.
    • If you are a webmaster with a “banned” website, feel free to ban the Google crawler from your “banned” website – sounds crazy but if your website is already banned from the Google search results, then this is one of the steps in getting your website re-listed – Banning the googlebot using the robots.txt file is not for the faint at heart! Contact the admin at freshbot.com to learn more…
    • To be safe, never install client software from Google (i.e. Google Pack). If you are concerned about Google collecting information about you, then why give G full access to not only your online meanderings, but also the files on your hard-drive as well? It is pure lunacy to think of the thousands (maybe millions) that are doing just that.

    A lot can be said for the concept of “free” as an inducement to transactional control.

    The Google business model is starting to unfold as follows:

    1. Provide the browsing public with a bunch of free tools and applications. Lots of “free” tools…
    2. Lace the freebies with Google spyware. Is the word “spyware” too strong a word to describe Google’s business model? Maybe, maybe not…
    3. What is indisputable is Google’s goal of becoming the world’s largest repository of online, and now offline, data.

    We know how this story ends.

    Despite Google’s denials, Google ultimate goal in collecting those terabytes of data are to mine the data to attain corporate dominance. If Google is not already mining the data partially with disclosure or mining the data in full (secretly), then they will be one day very soon.

    Otherwise what is the point?

    What is so scary about this and why write such a long comment?

    We do not know since we are not Google and do not know about all the sites you have visited for the last 8 years or so. As such we do not know what are your shopping preferences, personality and/or what could/should be presented to you as an inducement to motivate you to some goal…

    If you filled out an online dating profile and we have access to it along with your daily e-mail correspondence and all the sites you visited for just the last year, we would know much about you.

    Did we just mention dating? Seems like we just nailed Google’s next acquisition target. Take cover match.com or Yahoo Personals… :)

  4. Google announces behavioral targeting

    By the way, we do not know how a very important detail was left out of the previous all-inclusive, super-long comment.

    The Google Toolbar is one of the primary ways in which Google tracks user’s online activity. If you are concerned about Google snooping on you then simply uninstall the Google Toolbar. When you uninstall the Google Toolbar the software will complain and ask you two or three times if you really and truly, seriously, for real want to uninstall the Google Spyware. You of course will say, yes – enough already. ;)

    However if this is too hardcore for you, or if you are completely addicted to the Google Toolbar, then an alternative solution for Firefox users is to only install the Google Toolbar onto a backup browser.

    Even hard-core Mozilla users still have MS Internet Explorer installed. And use IE from time to time when a page will not load in Firefox. Probably the top reason for still using Internet Explorer is for updating Microsoft Windows with the latest security update or patch. Microsoft will not allow users to download security updates when using Mozilla Firefox. Microsoft says that Mozilla is an unknown or unsupported browser. All so very convenient for Microsoft, as it just happens to be the case that Mozilla Firefox has been voraciously eating into Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser market-share. We suppose that there is no point in helping the “enemy” from Microsoft’s perspective.

    Anyway, most smart users limit Google Toolbar installations (and any other shady software) to only on their backup browser (i.e. IE). This way, Google can not use the Google Toolbar to track your every move. This is because you primarily browse with Mozilla Firefox which you will ensure remains Google Toolbar free…

    Hmm… with all the Google bashing on freshbot.com lately, we wonder if we will be penalized by Google with a ban from the search engine… :)

    We are probably risking our PageRank, but we do not care if the last thing you do before you nuke the Google Toolbar is to check the freshbot.com PageRank.

    Let us know.

    Freshbot.com is PR6 by the way…

    Now go uninstall the Google Toolbar…

  5. Thank your great post.
    I agree with you, this is a very rude and bad manner to collect our steps on the net. They want secure us in silent way? Hmm… But we don’t want it BigBrother! :-(
    What is your opinion about Safari as alternative browser?

  6. I wonder is there a way to remove the google “safe browsing” feature from Firefox 3.5.1? It’s really disturbing… And in addition to monitoring my web browsing, it also seems to scan my harddrive more or less. At least the harddrive starts to make a lot of noise always when my antivirus software shows a connection to google safebrowsing url. And this happens often.

  7. lil’ brother:

    Look for the following:

    * “Tell me if the site I’m visiting is a suspected attack site”
    * “Tell me if the site I’m visiting is a suspected forgery”

    And untick them.

    You can find them under “Tools” > “Options” > “Security” for Mozilla Firefox at least that is where they were for Firefox version 3.0.5.

  8. Phurtoo:

    Yes, have heard a few good mentions about Safari, but do not know much about it. Perhaps will give it a try if we lose control of our Firefox install with all the shenanigans surrounding “Safe Browsing” and the Mozilla/Google alliance.