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Google shuttles DNS queries from Brazil back to US

Google is using U.S.-based servers to answer website address queries from Brazil after the country's president proposed stronger privacy laws, according to an Internet monitoring company.

Renesys wrote on Wednesday that Google began pushing DNS (Domain Name System) queries from Brazil to U.S.-based servers around Sept. 12, the same day President Dilma Rousseff expressed support for a law requiring Internet companies to hold data collected on the country's citizens locally.

Her comments came after documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that she and Brazil were spied on by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

When queried, a Google spokeswoman wrote via email on Oct. 23 that "these two events are unrelated" but did not further explain the shift.

DNS translates website domain names into the IP addresses of servers requested by a Web browser. Many ISPs (Internet service providers) and organizations run their own DNS servers. Google offers a free service, Public DNS.

Google has been vague about the change. On Sept. 25, a Google software engineer who works on Public DNS, Shen Wan, wrote on a public forum that "queries to Google DNS from Brazil (and maybe other South American countries as well) are handled by resolvers in the United States."

"Consequently you may experience longer latency than before," Wan wrote. "We are sorry about this inconvenience to you and are working to restart resolvers in Brazil in the near future."

When a forum user asked if the changes resulted from Brazil's interest in keeping local data in-country, Wan wrote that the question was off-topic. Wan didn't answer a query from IDG News Service.

People can use Google's DNS service by changing their computer's network settings to its public servers, which are at the IP addresses "8.8.8.8" and "8.8.4.4." If they do that, Google has total visibility on what websites are visited, which is advantageous for serving advertising, wrote Doug Madory, a Renesys senior analyst.

"By gaining visibility into the Internet usage of its users, Google can use this data to improve its commercial applications, such as the placement of advertisements," he wrote. "It is this user data that would presumably make Google Public DNS subject to the more stringent privacy laws proposed by President Rousseff."

Before the change, Google Public DNS answered queries from Sao Paulo in about 50 milliseconds, a metric called latency. Those queries now take more than 100 milliseconds, Madory wrote.

Google Public DNS "still works just fine for Latin American users, just much more slowly," Madory wrote.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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