Google Dashboard: Convenient, useful, but no big deal

As an enthusiastic Google user, I must admit that I probably have a great deal of personal information being stored in that company's servers -- more, perhaps, than I should be completely comfortable about. So I was immediately interested when I saw the headlines that proclaimed that Google was boosting its users' privacy with its new Dashboard.

Well, as often happens, the reality wasn't quite up to the hype.

Google's new Dashboard is touted in today's Official Google Blog as an effort to provide users "with greater transparency and control over their own data." All very laudable. I fired up the Dashboard to see what Google knew about me, and what I might need to tweak.

The result was pretty -- well, not disappointing, but uninspiring. If you're a conscious Google user -- in other words, if you are careful about what you make public and what you keep private; about what you share and what you don't -- there won't be many surprises here.

Google Dashboard gives you a rundown of the settings of your various Google accounts, along with links to the management pages for those accounts and icons to indicate which info is public. It's interesting information: I could see how many many documents I had in Google Docs, how many conversations in Gmail, how many videos I'd uploaded on YouTube. No real surprises -- most of this stuff I usually noticed when I was actually in those applications. But it was good to see the data all in one place.

I even found something I wanted to tweak; looking at my YouTube stats, I saw that my age was public. What the heck -- it's not something I need to broadcast. I clicked on the link that brought me to YouTube and made it private. I also found I had an unused Orkut album that I had opened a couple of years ago and never actually used. But on the whole, despite the fact that I've been playing with many of Google's applications for years now, I found no information that really surprised or alarmed me.

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One section that I think a lot of Google users aren't aware of, and that could be made more accessible, is Google's Ads Preferences page, which allows you to let Google know what types of ads you'd be interested in getting, what types you'd rather not get, what ads Google has associated with your account -- and whether you want to opt out of interest-based advertising altogether. It's great that Google gives you that ability -- but it would be even greater if the company included that feature in its shiny new Dashboard.

It could be that I'm not a typical Google user, and that there are a bunch of people out there who will be shocked to discover which documents they are sharing, or which photos are public, or how many public playlists they've got in YouTube. In that case, Google Dashboard could act as a useful reminder to manage their accounts properly.

For most of us, though, Google Dashboard is a nice, convenient way to access our Google settings. But it's really nothing more than that.

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