Dashboard shows what Google knows about you

Critics say Google makes some privacy progress, but call for more transparency

Ever wonder exactly what Google knows about you?

Google today took a step to help answer that question with the unveiling of Google Dashboard, which is designed to let users see and control the extensive amount of data that Google has stored in its servers about them.

"Over the past 11 years, Google has focused on building innovative products for our users. Today, with hundreds of millions of people using those products around the world, we are very aware of the trust that you have placed in us, and our responsibility to protect your privacy and data," said Google in a blog post today. "In an effort to provide you with greater transparency and control over their own data, we've built the Google Dashboard."

The company said the Dashboard is set up so that users can control the personal settings in each Google product that they use. Google said the Dashboard tool supports more than 20 products and services, including Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Web History, YouTube, Picasa, Talk, Reader, Alerts and Google Latitude.

Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit advocacy group formerly known as the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said in a statement today that it applauds Google for giving users a single place to go to manage their data. But at the same tine, the group also came down hard on Google, contending that it needs to give users a vehicle for stopping the company from collecting any personal data. The company should also provide a way for users to delete their information from Google's servers, the group added.

"If Google really wanted to give users control over their privacy, it would give consumers the ability to be anonymous from the company and its advertisers," said John Simpson, a consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog, in a statement. "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. Google isn't truly protecting privacy until it lets you control that information."

Dan Olds, principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group, said Google's Dashboard is making progress in the privacy area but he agrees that more needs to be done.

"This is a step in the right direction, but it's really only an aggregation of the option controls for various Google products," said Olds.

"This is useful, but it only covers the data users explicitly share with Google. What this doesn't tell users, or let them control, is the data that Google has gathered on them. For example, it doesn't tell users what Google knows about their search history. While this gives users a single point of control for the privacy options on their Google accounts, it doesn't do anything to allay user concerns about Google gathering data about how people use Google," he added.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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