Google releases controversial web accelerator

After hearing about Google’s new WebAccelerator utility and giving it a spin, I was ready to blog about it today.

The program, which requires Windows 2000 or XP and works with Internet Explorer and Firefox as well as other browsers by manual proxy settings, purports to speed up your browsing by routing Web page access through Google’s servers. The theory is that Google’s servers will usually be faster than whatever site you’re accessing.

However, this means that when WebAccelerator is running, Google can see everything you are browsing. To be fair, the installer does warn you of this, and you can add a list of sites which will bypass Google’s servers, or simply turn off the accelerator when you don’t want to use it.

It gets worse, though – it seems WebAccelerator isn’t smart enough not to cache pages that require a login. That means that you could visit a forum and be automatically logged in as someone else, for example. This has webmasters up in arms, and many sites are scrambling to block WebAccelerator users. Rich Kyanka at SomethingAwful.com is one of those affected.

Personally, I don’t blame Google for releasing WebAccelerator – it’s still in beta, so it’s up to users to decide whether they should take the risk in trying something that may not be quite ready for prime time. I don’t believe that Google have a sinister plan to build a history of user’s Web activity either, as some have suggested.

I have discontinued use of WebAccelerator, though, as I haven’t noticed a dramatic speed improvement. Similar results could be achieved by using the proxy server of your ISP – Google isn’t doing anything particularly new. What I would like to see is something like EarthLink Accelerator which compresses pages before sending them to the user. I would be interested to see how popular Google WebAccelerator becomes in the light of all this bad publicity.

You can read more over at Inside Google or at these digg stories.

Update: Now it seems that GWA is wreaking havoc with web apps.

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