Now, control personal data sharing on Google

At a European privacy conference on Thursday in Spain, the company unveiled a new service called Google Dashboard that summarises the data that Google collects in users’ accounts for products like Gmail, Picasa Web Albums, Web History, Checkout, Reader and YouTube. Users will be able to adjust their privacy settings for the various Google products directly from the dashboard.

All in one place

Much of the information was previously available in the accounts and settings sections for each product, so Dashboard simply brings all that information together in one place. “For the most part, the data was accessible to you in a piecemeal fashion,” Trust and Safety Business Product Manager Shuman Ghosemajumder said in an interview on Wednesday, adding “This is about providing you with a one-stop shop to see all of the data about you in various products.”

Ghosemajumder said that the Dashboard would offer users more transparency and control. The dashboard for Gmail, for example, will list the number of conversations in your inbox and the total number of conversations in your account, as well as how many chat sessions it has stored. Links for changing settings will be easily accessible.

Dahsboard provides information only about users’ Google accounts for products that require them to log in or for products in which the log-in is optional. It does not address the search records of people who are not logged into Google or the cookie data that Google uses to aim ads at people. Many advocates say the collection and storage of such data may raise the biggest privacy concerns. They also say that while such data, which typically includes a computer’s Internet Protocol, or IP, address, is not associated with personally identifiable information like names and addresses, it can often be linked with individuals.

Dashboard also does not change any of Google’s policies with regards to the retention of use of data. Still, some privacy advocates hailed the product.
“It is a significant step forward in terms of trying to unite the user experience for people who use Google products,” Centre for Democracy & Technology Chief Operating Officer Ari Schwartz said. “We still need a lot more to protect consumers’ privacy,” he added. Schwartz said that Google’s move mirrored efforts by Facebook to offer users more transparency about privacy settings. He said he hoped that more internet companies would offer products like Dashboard. Others were more critical. “Dashboard requires a Google account,” Electronic Privacy Information Centre Executive Director Marc Rotenberg said, adding “Google is trying to move internet users to the single sign-on model.”

Rotenberg noted that the Federal Trade Commission had opposed a similar effort by Microsoft in 2002 after consumer groups said it would raise privacy and security risks. John Simpson, of Consumer Watchdog, said Dashboard gave users the appearance of control over privacy but did not really prevent Google from tracking users across the Web.

“What the Dashboard does is list all the information linked directly to your name, but what it doesn’t do is let you know and control the data directly tied to your computer’s IP address, which is Google’s black box and data mine, Simpson said in a press release. “Google isn’t truly protecting privacy until it lets you control that information.”

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