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Google background images: a new way of snooping?

Don't like Google's new background pics? Then you'll have to sign up for an account – and hand over data about your personal search habits into the bargain.

Unless you've spent the day sleeping under a log, you'll probably have noticed that Internet search engine Google has followed in the footsteps of rival Bing, and installed a choice of pretty pictures as backgrounds for its search page.

Trouble is, loading full-screen eats up eats up bandwidth and slows down searches. So it's no surprise that within hours of implementing the change, the phrase "Remove Google background image" had soared to number two on the search engine's own Google Trends list of most-used search terms.

And unless you've signed up for an account with Google, you won't be able to turn them off – at least for the next 24 hours.

Click the 'Change background image' link at the bottom left of the screen, and you'll be taken straight to a login page where you can either sign up for or access a Google account.

The same is true of all localised versions of Google, as well as the site's much-trumpeted secure version, whose URL begins with 'https://'.

Signing up for a Google account enables the search engine to log all of your search information and tie it to a specific user account – along with the IP address of the computer you're searching from.

Ah. Maybe that's the point.