Hacking Google proxies on your BlackBerry

You may or may not realize this, but when you use Gmail on your BlackBerry, they’re doing some tricky things behind the scenes to “improve” your “Gmobile” experience.

For one thing, when you’re reading your Gmail, they strip down the service to its barest essentials: AJAX, tables, selecting… all gone. But unsurprisingly, it remains quite useful (that whole simplicity thing).

Anyway, I discovered an interesting hack along with some serious privacy … concerns … while tooling around with Gmail.

The privacy issue is pretty simple: everything that you visit from Gmail (and this is more or less true whether you’re on Gmail Mobile or the regular version) is tracked by Google. Click on a link in an email from your friend in Gmail? Google knows. One might argue that this is how they improve their service and add relevance to the AdWords that they show you (they already grep your emails to contextualize the ads in the sidebar, so watching the links you click improves the personalized search results you get). Ok, that’s the tradeoff I’m willing to bare in order to receive their free services; I’m not complaining necessarily, just pointing it out because they don’t make it explicit that they track the links that you click.

Now, on to that hack.

I was looking to make dinner reservations last night on the OpenTable website. Tragically they don’t have a mobile-friendly version (still using tables for layout?? gross!) so the experience was… let’s just say, pretty terrible.

But then I remembered! — ah ha! — Google tracks all my surfing habits with their Gmail proxy — but they also reformat all the sites that I visit to be more mobile friendly… So I opened up the Send Address dialog in the BlackBerry browser and sent it off to my Gmail account (which I’ve set up as “me” in my address book).

I opened up my Gmail inbox in the BlackBerry browser and sure enough, visiting the link that I just sent myself took me through the Google proxy to a page that looked like this:

OpenTable over the Gmail proxy

…instead of this.

Sweet! So now whenever you find yourself on a site that’s completely unusable on your mobile device, just prefix the url with this http://www.google.com/gwt/n?u= and you’ll have a much more usable interface, thanks to Google’s spying proxies!

Bonus: WordPress plugin Bad Behavior will block attempts by proxies like Google’s from being able to access your site. I’ve got it installed and you can see how many Spambots have attempted to access my site in the few days that I’ve had it running!

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Author: Chris Messina

Product guy, friend to startups, inventor of the hashtag, proponent of bots and conversational apps; Xoogler and X Uber.

7 thoughts on “Hacking Google proxies on your BlackBerry”

  1. They do this for ANY URL you click on off google.com mobile search too. (You know, when you hit up google.com in a mobile browser and it sniffs your browser and shows you that lightweight Google page… type in a search term, click on any result, and it’s run through that Google translator.)

    I absolutely HATE this behavior on Google web searches. The main reason is because their f*cking gateway crashes ALL THE TIME!! I constantly get 500 errors from it. If it actually worked all the time, I wouldn’t mind it so much. The second reason is because there seems to be no way to actually turn this behavior OFF if you don’t want Google “translating” all your URLs for you (particularly with some websites with two- or three-column layout, it really breaks the layout and makes the site unreadable.) I’ve complained to my Googler friends about this and they all replied “Don’t mention it… it’s controversial/touchy even within Google.” So some holier-than-thou at Google has declared that all URLs searched off the mobile site must go through this translator, and there’s no way to turn it off… why? Is this really in their users’ best interest?

    I am currently using mobile Yahoo search instead. Try wap.oa.yahoo.com in your mobile browser — they actually have a lot of good stuff there. Search.yahoo.com is also great. Google… bleh.

  2. Erica beat me to it, but the mobile version of Google’s search page (and the mobile formatted Personalized page, etc.) will also refomat pages you visit via that search. It’s a handy page to use as your homepage on a mobile device like a BlackBerry.

    To get straigh to the mobile page, rather than relying on Google to correctly sniff your useragent, just go to http://www.google.com/xhtml

    Added bonuses: Local searches for businesses and directions that include maps and “click to dial” phone numbers (very useful!)

    Mobile image search

    Searching only in “mobile optimized” pages, which are few and far between, and really suck, in general. Just use the normal search.

    Another really useful mobile device page: http://mobile.answers.com. A great mobile interface to dictionaries, Wikipedia, and tons of other sources. When I’m looking for fact-type information, this is where I start.

    Hope that helps! 🙂

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  4. wow thats pretty creative man. im kinda new at this computer programming thing and thanks for the insight.

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