Poking At Google’s New Privacy Dashboard

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Google this week unveiled a new feature called Dashboard,
    intended to give users a way to view — and in modest ways limit — the
    breadth of information the search giant collects about our online

    To check out Dashboard, browse to this link, and sign in to your Google account. From there, you can manage which Google Documents you’re sharing, edit your Gchat history, or clear out items from your Web search history, among other tasks.


    Google said
    it was launching the service "to provide users with greater
    transparency and control over their own data." The reaction from
    privacy experts has been mixed. Ari Schwartz, vice president and chief operating officer at the Center for Democracy & Technology,
    called the Dashboard offering a good first step, and one that is
    several steps ahead of what Google’s peers in the search businesses
    currently offer their users.

    "Google has said that they want to give the user control, but this
    is the first time that we’ve really seen them organize that control
    over privacy sensitive information," Schwartz said.

    But as others have observed, Dashboard doesn’t really give users any
    clearer insights into what the company is doing with all of the data it
    collects. John Simpson, a consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog,
    said if Google really wants people to use Dashboard, the company should
    make it easier to find, noting that there are few links to the tool
    from the landing pages of any Google properties. Simpson said Google
    also should make it easier for users to blow away stored search and
    activity data across multiple Google properties with a single click.

    "Google is maximizing the PR value of this feature in response to
    critics who have demanded online privacy guarantees," Simpson said in a
    written statement. "They are letting a little light shine into the
    black box that is Google, but to claim that this is transparency is


    Whether or not Dashboard’s insights go deep enough, the view it
    offers into how much Web and/or search history information Google
    stores about users can be startling (the above screen shot shows some
    of my search history from earlier this year). Interestingly, I found it
    easier to find Web search history by *not* using the Dashboard. To see
    what I mean go to Google.com (while signed in), click "Settings," then
    select "Google Account Settings," then click the "Web history" link.
    You should now be able to scroll back through your search history for
    the last five or six months at least.

    Now go back to the main personal settings page and click the link
    next to Dashboard that says "View data stored with this account." You
    have to then scroll down to the "Web history" section, and click the
    "Web" link to view the same information through the Dashboard.

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