What is GoogleToolbarNotifier.exe?

Just when you thought Google was the coolest thing on the Internet...

Many of you have already noticed the latest Google Toolbar update the last week July 2006. The new toolbar, besides being more difficult to use, has three disturbing features:

  1. It installs all by itself
    For many of us that's a little disconcerting, especially if you are a charter member of the "It's My Computer" club. Well, no matter, you can trust Google not to install mysterious software without your knowledge, right?
  2. It installs a piece of mysterious background software called GoogleToolBarNotifier.exe
    This program runs in the background and does some strange things. More in this later.
  3. It brute-forces your default search engine to be Google - whether you like it or not.
If you look into the directory that the program is located, you'll find a Readme.txt that states the following:
GoogleToolbarNotifier is a companion to the Google Toolbar. This executable is necessary to enable the Search Settings Notifier feature of the Toolbar. This feature lets you keep Google as your default search engine and prevents this setting (and others as we add new features) from being changed without your consent.

To enable or disable this feature, please click the "Settings" button on
your Toolbar and choose "Options." In the "More" section, check or
un-check the box next to "Search with Google." As long as this feature
remains enabled, GoogleToolbarNotifier.exe will run silently in the
background.

Now, I've got Spybot S&D to protect my computer from spyware. During the toolbar's automatic upgrade, even though I specifically didn't want Google to be able to search from Internet Explorer's address bar, Spybot's Teatimer repeatedly popped up a registry modification alert that Google was changing my default search engine, so there. And it wouldn't take no for an answer.

I denied the registry change, it kept right insisting that it was making the registry change to change my default search engine. After telling it 85 times not to change my default search engine, I had no choice but to give up and let Google have it's way.

Also, many people have noticed GoogleToolbarNotifier.exe periodically attempts an outbound connection as a hidden process. This begs the question - why?

GoogleToolbarNotifier Outpost Firewall Alert
    Outpost Firewall popup alert

Google's position on GoogleToolbarNotifier.exe is that it runs on the background and prevents other search engines from setting itself as the default search engine, if you so desire by selecting that option. However, it is located in the More section, and the description "Beyond the Search Box > Search with Google" is very cryptic for most users:

Google Toolbar Options

There's a few problems with this:

  • GoogleToolbarNotifier.exe installs itself even if you do NOT want Google to be default search engine from your address bar.
    Google's assertion that this is a bug is being met with skepticism from many bloggers.
  • It FORCES your default search engine to be Google, even if you specifically disable Google as your default search engine. In my case, it constantly assaulted Spybot until I relented.
  • On Windows 2000 and Windows XP, it installs itself as a system process. The security concerns are obvious. (note: this was fixed by a Microsoft Windows patch in September 2006)
  • If you kill the process, it re-installs itself the next time you open a window in Internet Explorer. It cannot be disabled unless you delete the folder it is in.

Your default search engine and options are Google. For the Common User (people who are not tech savvy) this is a one-way process.

There are other little things - like it takes two clicks to see your search history, although for some people (like me) the search history is always blank. (note: this was fixed in a subsequent Google Toolbar update).

I gotta believe that this is not a Google corporate thing. There's already a backswell of ugliness over this on forums, and you don't need to be Kreskin to see that this is going to be bad press for Google. I believe that this was a bad decision by someone at Google - either this was planned on purpose without approval and done badly, or someone in the Google Toolbar Department decided that this absolutely had to be released by the end of July.

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