Google Dashboard Offers New Privacy Controls

Matt McGee on
  • Categories: Channel: Industry, Google: Accounts & Profiles, Google: Critics, Google: Privacy, Legal: Privacy
  • Google has launched a new privacy dashboard — technically just called Google Dashboard — that gives users quicker access to, and more control over, the personal information stored in Google’s databases. The dashboard is a one-stop shop for managing this data and the settings that are associated with the Google products you use when signed in to your Google account.

    “We recognize how important our users’ trust is, so we’re looking for ways to be more transparent,” says Shuman Ghosemajumder, Google’s Business Product Manager for Trust & Safety. “Over the last 11 years we’ve launched a lot of products, so we wanted to provide more transparency for people using those products.”

    How to access Google Dashboard

    Google Dashboard can be reached by going to www.google.com/dashboard or by going to your Google Account page. You’ll see a link under Personal Settings that says “View data stored with this account.”

    You’ll have to be logged in to your Google account first and, because the information in Google Dashboard is sensitive, Google requires a second login before you can access it.

    What’s included in Google Dashboard

    At the beginning, not all Google products are included in Google Dashboard. Ghosemajumder says there were some “last-minute technical issues” that kept some products out of Dashboard. Google hopes to add those within the next couple weeks. For now, here are lists of what’s in and what’s not:

    Included: Account & Profile, Web history, Gmail, Docs, Calendar, YouTube, Blogger, iGoogle, Latitude, Reader, Talk, Health, Orkut, Picasa, Shopping List, Voice, Contacts, Alerts, Finance, Friend Connect, Tasks, Custom search engines, Mobile Sync

    Not included: Checkout, Google Video, Groups, SideWiki, SearchWiki, Analytics, AdWords, AdSense, 3D Warehouse, Book Search, Sites, MyMaps, Base, Code, Moderator, PowerMeter, Feed Burner.

    As Google launches new products in the future, Ghosemajumder says they’ll be added to Dashboard, too.

    How Google Dashboard works

    The dashboard lists all of the Google products that are associated with your account and shows different bits of data related to your use of each product. If you have a Gmail account, the dashboard shows information about your Inbox, Sent mail, Chat history, and more. If you use iGoogle, you’ll see how many gadgets are installed. All of the data in the Dashboard is considered private and only viewable by you, except in cases where you’ve elected to share data with others; a small “friends” icon will appear to indicate that.

    More importantly, next to all this data are links to manage it. Gmail users will see links such as “Manage chat history” and “Manage HTTPS settings.” Google Docs users will see a “Manage documents” links. Ghosemajumder says that none of these management links are new. It’s all about organizing the user’s ability to see and control the data that gets shared with Google when using their products. Rather than needing to visit each Google product individually, users can manage everything from this single console.

    If you use Google products while not logged in to your Google account, the data associated with those uses won’t show up in Dashboard.

    Google Dashboard is currently available in 17 languages, and the company hopes to expand that to 40 languages soon.

    Final thoughts

    All of the major search engines face privacy issues, but it seems that Google is put under the microscope the most due to its size, success, and perhaps its ambition, too. Google clashes with governments over YouTube, over data retention, and even the idea that Google Maps helps terrorists. It clashes with regular Joes over Street View. It clashes with privacy groups over Google Latitude. The list goes on and on.

    In September, Google announced its Data Liberation Front – a team focused on making it easy for users to move data in and out of Google products. The Google Dashboard is a sister and almost a prequel to that effort — one that helps users see and manage the data Google that Google has about them. It represents a step toward appeasing some of its critics and preventing some of these privacy clashes. The question is … will Google’s critics feel that it’s a big enough step?

    Note From Danny Sullivan: I’m thrilled to see this step and look forward to seeing how it develops further. My Anonymizing Google’s Server Log Data — How’s It Going? post from last year looks at privacy issues at Google and the difficulty of knowing exactly what they have stored. That was a follow-up to Google Responds To EU: Cutting Raw Log Retention Time; Reconsidering Cookie Expiration, in 2007, which also looked at privacy pain points. In that article, we got our first hint that a dashboard might be coming from Google:

    Figuring out where all my data resides and how to kill it is a pain — at Google or Microsoft or Yahoo, for that matter. John Battelle had a good suggestion back in early 2006 for a sort of private data control panel that could show you exactly what was stored where and put the user in control:

    “I bet 95% of the public will never edit, or even view the data more than once. But the sense that the control panel is there, just in case, will be invaluable to establishing trust.”

    We could use that more than ever. Google especially could use that, if it wants to stop the privacy attacks or at least stem them. How about it? I asked Google’s global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer about this yesterday, when talking to him about the Privacy International survey.

    “We’re thinking hard internally along the digital dashboard-type of approach. Is there a way to give users a dashboard and visibility to all these elements and give them control,” he said. “It would be hugely complicated to build, but in terms of that vision, I completely share it, and we’re having deep discussions about it.”

    So kudos also to John Battelle. His idea of a control panel dashboard, rather than a million settings and cryptic privacy policies, becomes a reality.


    About The Author

    Matt McGee
    Matt McGee joined Third Door Media as a writer/reporter/editor in September 2008. He served as Editor-In-Chief from January 2013 until his departure in July 2017. He can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee.