Google Toolbar 5: Sync Your Settings and Share Your Browsing History

If you sit at more than one computer on a regular basis, and you use some of Google’s toolbar features, you may like a new offering from Google in the newest version of their toolbar.

If you share a computer with one or more people, you may also appreciate having a toolbar that is configured to your preferences rather than one that is shared by multiple users.

This new feature in Google toolbar 5 is synchronization, which allows you to share settings on your Google Toolbar between more than one computer, or personalize the toolbar to your tastes when sharing a computer with someone else.

The new toolbar was announced at the Official Google Blog in Google Toolbar: Take your tools with you.

This version of the toolbar is only presently available for Internet Explorer, and offers a number of other new features, such as the ability to add Google Gadget buttons to your brower, the addition of Google Notebook with an integration of Google bookmarks to the Notebook, and an improved Autofill feature.

According to the Google Toolbar Privacy Notice, many of the optional features of the toolbar require that you be logged into your Google Account for them to work. You are also able to access Web History, Gmail, and Safe Browsing through the new Toolbar.

For Firefox users, there is a Firefox extension that performs a synchronization function, which was described at the Official Google Blog last year in Get in sync. The author of that post was Brian Rakowski. You’ll see his name again, below.

The toolbar incorporates a couple of smart moves by Google in allowing a user to configure a portable toolbar through sychronization, and in providing more useful features in the toolbar.

Synchronization and many of the new toolbar features only work when someone is logged into their Google Account, and a number of the optional features involve the collection of browsing (Web History, PageRank, and Safe Browsing) and annotation (Bookmarks and Notebook) information.

That enables Google to collect even more information about how people use the search engine and how they browse the Web, and associate that information with a specific user.

We’ve seen a good number of patent filings from Google which indicate that user based data is a growing part of how pages may be ranked by the search engine, and which ads may be shown to searchers.

So the new features come at a cost of sharing more information with Google. If you’re concerned about your privacy, you may want to look over Google’s privacy policies.

The synchronization feature is the subject of a couple of Google patent applications that were published last week.

Resolving Conflicts While Synchronizing Configuration Information Among Multiple Clients
Inventors: Brian D. Rakowski, Kristina Holst, Aaron Boodman, Marria S. Nazif, Fritz J. Schneider, Glen Murphy
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20070283049
Publshed December 6, 2007
Filed June 2, 2006

Synchronizing Configuration Information Among Multiple Clients
Inventors: Brian D. Rakowski, Kristina Holst, Aaron Boodman, Marria S. Nazif, Fritz J. Schneider, Glen Murphy
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20070283011
Published December 6, 2007
Filed June 2, 2006


A user of multiple client devices (clients) makes application configuration changes on the clients from time to time. The configuration changes are stored in a local event log on each client, as well as in a synchronization server.

When one of the clients connects to the synchronization server, for example when the user logs into the synchronization server while using a respective client, the configuration information in the server and client is synchronized.

Conflicts, if any, in the configuration changes for a respective application are resolved in accordance with a conflict resolution procedure or conflict resolution rules associated with that application.

My interest in synchronization isn’t how it works as much as it is some of the information that Google might collect about people who use the toolbar and syncronization feature. The patent applications do provide a lot of details on subjects like the encryption of certain kinds of data, and how server and client computers interact in this process.

What kind of information might be collected, so that it can be shared from one computer to another, or associated with a specific user on the same computer? Here’s a list from the patent applications:

  • Bookmarks,
  • Passwords,
  • Open tabs,
  • Open windows,
  • Cookies,
  • User history,
  • Data for auto-completion of forms,
  • Address state, and;
  • Layout information.

The claims section of the patent applications tells us that some of the configuration information includes a “browser state.”

[0014]In some embodiments, the configuration information includes a browser state, which includes at least two types of items selected from the group consisting of bookmarks, passwords, open tabs, open windows, cookies, user history, data for auto-completion of forms, and window layout information.

It’s difficult to tell for certain, and it’s not completely clear from the patent filings, but it sounds like it might remember tabs and windows that you’ve left open to specific pages when your close your browser, and then open it up and log into a new computer, or sign into the same computer again after someone else has used it and their own synchronized toolbar.

I haven’t installed the toolbar yet to test that, but it’s probably worth a look.


Author: Bill Slawski

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