Google DNS idea could threaten privacy

The proposal to send DNS requests to servers in close proximity has been met with privacy fears


Google is amongst a group of DNS (Domain Name System) and content providers proposing an extension to the DNS protocol so that Internet requests are sent to servers in close proximity, thus boosting Internet performance.

The proposal, submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force this week, was noted in the Google Code Blog. Some persons commenting on the proposal, however, feared it would infringe on privacy.

DNS, Google said, translates web names such as to numeric IP addresses used to communicate on the Internet. DNS can be used to load-balance traffic and send users to a nearby server, such as a user in New York looking up Google and the request being resolved to an IP address for a server in New York City.  Authoritative nameservers, which have authority over DNS zones, look at the source IP address of the incoming request, which is the IP address of the DNS resolver. Sometimes, however, DNS resolvers serve many users over a wider area, and a lookup may return the IP address of a server several countries away.

"Sending you to a nearby server improves speed, latency, and network utilisation," said Wilmer van der Gaast and Carlo Contavalli on behalf of the Google Public DNS team.

"If the authoritative nameserver could detect where you were, a closer server might have been available," the blog said.

"Our proposed DNS protocol extension lets recursive DNS resolvers include part of your IP address in the request sent to authoritative nameservers. Only the first three octets, or top 24 bits, are sent providing enough information to the authoritative nameserver to determine your network location, without affecting your privacy," Google said.

But some comments on Google's blog indicated skepticism.

"This proposal is absolutely about Google getting more data about your Internet habits, and more data about the market spaces they don't (yet) control," according to one comment.

Another poster defended the proposal.

"I am a DNS system administrator at a mid-size ISP. At first I was speculative about this proposal based on the comments here. Taking an end user customer's perspective, I just read the Internet draft, and at this point, I think it sounds reasonable," the commenter said.

During the next few months, the group promoting the proposal hopes to see it accepted as an official Internet standard.

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