Google To Unveil New Privacy Controls

Wed, Nov 4, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Google Inc. will announce a feature tomorrow that will give users more control over their online privacy, according to a consumer advocate who discussed the matter with the company.

    John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog hasn’t reviewed Google Dashboard yet, because he refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement. But attorneys for the Mountain View search giant informed him the new feature would be unveiled on Thursday, he told The Chronicle.

    At issue is so called behavioral marketing, in which Google and other Internet companies target ads to consumers based on the sites they visit, queries they make and products they buy online.

    Privacy advocates have long decried the practice, insisting consumers should be able to access information stored about them, correct it if necessary and opt out of the tracking entirely.

    "An individual’s information and their web surfing habits are something that they should have the right to control," Simpson said.

    Google says its "Dashboard" feature will address these concerns, he said. CNET reported some additional details this afternoon, saying the service:

    lets you log into a console and see all the personal data that the company maintains on a Google Account user across all its products, from Gmail and YouTube to Blogger and Picasa. It allows users to log into the settings page of their Google account and review links to the personal data stored by Google across many of its products from a single Web page.
    Users can delete data, change privacy settings, and read the privacy policies from various accounts on that page.

    Google has been offering to brief news outlets about the feature on an embargoed basis. The Chronicle declined this invitation.

    In September, a group of 10 consumer groups called on Congress to regulate targeted advertising online. A letter to members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce laid out a set of proposed privacy principles.

    The organizations included Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumers Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

    As the biggest online search company, and one of the most sophisticated targeter of ads, Google has been singled out by consumer groups.

    Late last year, Consumer Watchdog posted videos highlighting alleged privacy concerns with Google’s Chrome browser and Gmail service.

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