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Google answers data transparency concerns with Dashboard
November 5, 2009 7:18 AM   Subscribe

This morning, Google launched a new feature called "Google Dashboard" that lets users view (and in some cases control,) what data is being stored on a range of more than 20 Google services, including Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Web History, Orkut, YouTube, Picasa, Talk, Reader, Alerts and Latitude.

Services not currently included -- Analytics, AdWords, AdSense, and Book Search among others -- will be added in later versions.

This new service may help address privacy concerns that have been raised over the years regarding various Google services.

More from:
* The Unofficial Google Blog
* TechCrunch
* The New York Times
* CNET
posted by zarq (59 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well that certainly makes it easy for people if they compromise your account.
posted by smackfu at 7:29 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I checked it out. They know more about me than I do. It is good to see how compormised you are in one place.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:30 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


This could be a real eye-opening experience in regards to how much data we 21st century internet children share and store online.
posted by schleppo at 7:30 AM on November 5, 2009


shit! I best change my google password!
posted by jeffburdges at 7:31 AM on November 5, 2009


If anyone was wondering, this page lets you delete sub-accounts entirely. They should really integrate it into the dashboard.
posted by smackfu at 7:32 AM on November 5, 2009 [10 favorites]


Gmail Inbox : 10422 conversations

wow, didn't think I've read that much email in the past 3 years..
posted by localhuman at 7:33 AM on November 5, 2009


This is an amazing product, a real step forward for data transparency and user privacy. It takes some courage for Google to do this, too, since the immediate reaction of everyone who uses this will be "OMG Google has all this data about me?!". But a lot of Internet companies collect data about its users. The difference is not only does Google actually do useful stuff for you with that data, but also is now telling you what they collect and giving you tools to manage it. That's fantastic.

I'm specifically interested in the cross-website data they collect via AdWords, Doubleclick, and Analytics. Sounds like a lot of that isn't in the launched version of Dashboard, hopefully it will come soon.

(Disclaimer of sorts: I used to work at Google and agitated internally for user privacy. Dashboard seems like a real step forward to me.)
posted by Nelson at 7:37 AM on November 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


My thoughts as I scrolled down the page:

"hmm...creepy, kind of creepy...Web searches..ick, very creepy.."

Video
Most recent: up and at them on May 15, 2009

"heehee!"

Also, apparently it's just not logging quite as much as I thought it would, and nearly all of the information is just tied to my GMail account, so I'm not sure it's really a huge deal.
posted by explosion at 7:37 AM on November 5, 2009


Clicking my own link, I see now why I haven't done video search since May: it sucks! Clearly I wanted Rainier Wolfcastle, and not Katy Perry, but Google video just didn't know better.
posted by explosion at 7:38 AM on November 5, 2009


That's pretty neat. Turns out that that google login thing when you reply to Blogger blogs is actually a fully blown profile I made many moons ago, and YouTube has some random personal info that's visible too.

But honestly, as long as you've disabled paranoia-inducing services like Web History, I don't think there's a lot to worry about. At least not until the day they decide to read all your Gmail.
posted by Harry at 7:40 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


YouTube has some random personal info that's visible too

Yeah, apparently YouTube shows your age.
posted by smackfu at 7:42 AM on November 5, 2009


Huh, that's interesting. I've discovered I have a blog I forgot about.
posted by something something at 7:48 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


An activated Google web history seems like a less outwardly-intrusive alternative to the digital memory machines in this thread.
posted by timshel at 7:49 AM on November 5, 2009


Wow. Google knows less about me than I thought they did.

Pretty sure Yahoo knows more. I mean, I use a lot of Google services - but I paid for Flickr. I haven't given Google one cent. (Kind of sad, really, given how much Yahoo annoys me...)
posted by caution live frogs at 7:50 AM on November 5, 2009


I mean, I use a lot of Google services - but I paid for Flickr.

It's certainly interesting that the ones that are currently not included in this dashboard are the ones that have the most personal info. For instance, if you use Adsense, they have your bank account details (to pay you) and your SSN (for taxes).
posted by smackfu at 8:06 AM on November 5, 2009


Finally I have a reason to stop using HotBot.
posted by geoff. at 8:08 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


It seems to know about as much about me as the online store where I bought some taps last week - in other words only the address and payment details associated with Google Checkout.

Where's all the scary stuff then?
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:19 AM on November 5, 2009


Well thank goodness for this post. I thought I had turned off that web search history nonsense, but apparently not.
posted by jedicus at 8:22 AM on November 5, 2009


What I'd love to see is the aggregate dollar amount that I've made for Google so far as a faithful and trusting and very active data point, especially since I also use Android on top of everything.

Thing about Google that kills me with how brilliant it is, is that someone said "Hmmm...there's an awful lot of free information out there that we can capture (Earth, space, searches, real time photos video, email messages, trends, the movement of bodies through time and space, so on and so forth) and port back, for example with Google earth, to consumers/end users and make a lot of money with.

It's like their raw product is reality. They harvest it, save it stamp it code it augment it juxtapose it record it deconstruct it reconstruct it repurpose it and commodify it.

And considering I live in this reality as well, I'm pretty sure they owe me money.
posted by Skygazer at 8:43 AM on November 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Class action suit anyone?

I'm half serious. But honestly do we own our own reality? Do we have a shared reality that is a community resource? Isn't that some sort of Communism of perception since it is now a communal product?

Anyhow, what a want is a big red button on that Google dashboard, that can be activated if ever Google decides to reneg on its promise to not be evil. As, with that much power and that much information, it's really only a matter of time before they become weak (as all humans will) and perhaps less than what one would hope.
posted by Skygazer at 8:49 AM on November 5, 2009


Perhaps you might want to revisit your idea of "reality"...
posted by Burhanistan at 8:58 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seriously? Do you own your reality. Sure. Don't use Google Whatever(c) if it bugs you. WTF?
posted by Babblesort at 9:13 AM on November 5, 2009


The big red button: https://www.google.com/accounts/EditServices
posted by jaduncan at 9:13 AM on November 5, 2009


Burhanistan: Perhaps you might want to revisit your idea of "reality"...

How so? I use that word with the idea of what the oncoming world of Augmented Reality will be like? Will there be special augmented reality stations or services or even designer channels that will have people living let's say in a certain writer or film-maker's or musicians reality. Perhaps a certain commercial entity's reality.

Babblesort: Seriously? Do you own your reality. Sure. Don't use Google Whatever(c) if it bugs you. WTF?

Thanks for that. You're dismissive clueless snark has done much to add to the discussion.
posted by Skygazer at 9:28 AM on November 5, 2009


you're your
posted by Skygazer at 9:29 AM on November 5, 2009


I use that word with the idea of what the oncoming world of Augmented Reality will be like?

That's Bullshit Reality.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:38 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Look I've read Kurzweil's Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Approaching too. So I'm gonna say clueless - not so much. Dismissive? Hell yes. If you don't like their free shit don't use it. If you want something different or better make it. How you manage to construct a martyred position out of this is beyond me.
posted by Babblesort at 9:38 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nice to know my current privacy settings have been working well, and that there are a few more I can block off. Good service.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:39 AM on November 5, 2009


I haven't given Google one cent.

Just keep searchin' and lookin' at the ads. You probably haven't given any TV networks any money either.
posted by GuyZero at 9:54 AM on November 5, 2009


And considering I live in this reality as well, I'm pretty sure they owe me money.

How much have you paid them for the services? So, no. They don't.

Class action suit anyone?

I'm half serious.


What's the other half? Grateful for the "free" products, and fully aware that in exchange for the services you're allowing them to use your data in various ways? Cause I'm not sure what else it could be, if you're still using their services.
posted by inigo2 at 9:55 AM on November 5, 2009


I'm pretty sure all of the EULAs you checked Yes to when using their stuff makes your class action suit a non-starter.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:00 AM on November 5, 2009


And considering I live in this reality as well, I'm pretty sure they owe me money.

If you don't like what Google is paying you, you are welcome to stop using their services whenever you want. Maybe you can find some other company that will pay you to use their email, hosting, and search services. (Seriously; it's been done many times before, including Microsoft themselves paying people to use Microsoft search.)

Yes, Google search is practically like breathing air for most of us on the Internet. That's why it's so important to have competition. Sadly, in the US market the only competition now is Bing. Fortunately it's pretty good and may keep Google on its toes. But end of the day Google is a private company, providing services to consumers in the way that it finds most profitable. That bargain seems to work out pretty well for us so far and Google has continued to be honest and not-evil in the large majority of its dealings with its users.

This new dashboard feature is a good example of Google providing a complex, potentially awkward service because the company feels like it's the right thing for consumers. Of course it helps that it gets them ahead of growing privacy pressure, particularly in Europe.
posted by Nelson at 10:17 AM on November 5, 2009


Will there be special augmented reality stations or services or even designer channels that will have people living let's say in a certain writer or film-maker's or musicians reality.

This already happens. You see, everybody's life is the production of one filmmaker on another. Look around you; I'm sure you know people whose lives are by the Coen Brothers, or maybe Woody Allen. You may even have a handful of friends with lives by John Waters. There are people out there with lives by Michael Bay, or Robert Altman, or Alfred Hitchcock.

By now, I'm sure you're wondering who produces my life. Well, I'll tell you.

It's Alan Smithee.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:20 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


I just stumbled across an Opt Out button that lets you "opt out of interest-based advertising completely."

Here's how I got there:

Dashboard > YouTube > Manage Privacy Settings > Privacy

In the Ads Based on My Interests section, click the "click here" link.

Viola! Big blue Opt Out button.
posted by diogenes at 10:23 AM on November 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Opting out of interest-based advertising isn't opting out of advertising btw - it's just not using your interest profile to select ads.
posted by GuyZero at 10:26 AM on November 5, 2009


It looks like Google has decided to take issues surrounding their power seriously. They just announced their data liberation service. Which promotes data portability out from and into Google services. I don't expect to see such a service from Facebook or pretty much any other corporation on the planet anytime soon.
posted by johnny novak at 11:08 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was very happy to delete the "Web History" "product" from my profile. I'd have been even happier if they hadn't just given it to me in the first place.
posted by Slothrup at 11:11 AM on November 5, 2009


Hey, Google, good job making my "sample contact" a girl with whom I've had my most epically failed of dates.
posted by griphus at 11:27 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey, Google, good job making my "sample contact" a girl with whom I've had my most epically failed of dates.

For those who think Google knows everything about you: not quite everything. Happy?
posted by GuyZero at 11:36 AM on November 5, 2009


For those who think Google knows everything about you: not quite everything. Happy?

This is Google's way of saying, "BUT SHE'S PERFECT FOR YOU. GO ON. GIVE IT ANOTHER SHOT! YOU WON'T BE DISAPPOINTED!"
posted by zarq at 12:18 PM on November 5, 2009


They just announced their data liberation service.

That is pretty neat, although it seems more like just a centralized place to find the existing import/export options. Like POP as the only way to get your data out of Gmail isn't that portable. It's sufficient but not great.
posted by smackfu at 12:22 PM on November 5, 2009


What fascinated me about Dashboard was the information on my search history.

When I arrived at work this morning, I logged into one of my personal GMail accounts in a Safari tab. Read my mail. Closed the tab without logging out.

In separate tabs, I then opened a number of searches and articles for a MeFi post I'm researching/composing on transhumanism. The searches were done through the built-in Google search bar at the top of my browser.

Then I opened Dashboard, and all of the searches I'd made were listed and associated with my gmail profile. It took me by surprise, because I had forgotten that I was still logged in to my account. Out of sight, out of mind. I use that search field throughout the day as part of my job, whether it's to research a topic, or to assist me when I'm writing press releases and pitches. Those searches have become an essential part of my day.

It shouldn't have surprised me, but it did. Google and its products have become ubiquitous.
posted by zarq at 12:50 PM on November 5, 2009


The scary stuff is the possibility that google is logging searches back to individual accounts. If you google for "great ski chalets" & "top divorce lawyers" on the same day, does the info just get lost in the ether or is google making a note about how you're getting divorced and running off with your mistress? Or maybe the data is just hanging out in log files that google could eventually parse when computing power gets cheaper (or you become more important)? Same issue applies to google ad click throughs (I know, ad sense is coming soon, but soon is a relative word when it comes to google apps).

I thought I read somewhere that google promised to only keep search logs for 6 months or 2 years or something. Anyone know what the official policy is on that? What sort of data is culled from this information and associated back to your account?

It's obvious that gmail clearly knows more about a user than what's displayed on the dashboard. Specifically, it knows anything sent or received by email. Is the dashboard implying that Google never mines this data?

Obviously, if you're really concerned, you just stop using their sites like previously recommended. But that's already pretty hard to do, and getting harder as they integrate into other media (cell phones OS, for example).
posted by Crash at 12:52 PM on November 5, 2009


or I could just read their "is this everything?" page, which addresses most of my questions.
posted by Crash at 12:55 PM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I logged into Dashboard, but I don't see any place to get my web search history. Can someone point me in the right direction?
posted by fake at 12:58 PM on November 5, 2009


So guys, where does this put Google on the "Evil" track now? It feels nice to hear something from them that makes me feel good about the company again.
posted by JHarris at 1:12 PM on November 5, 2009


I logged into Dashboard, but I don't see any place to get my web search history.

"Web History" right above YouTube. If it's not listed, you probably don't have it enabled for your account. You have to manually turn it on, I think.
posted by smackfu at 1:29 PM on November 5, 2009


The scary stuff is the possibility that google is logging searches back to individual accounts. If you google for "great ski chalets" & "top divorce lawyers" on the same day, does the info just get lost in the ether or is google making a note about how you're getting divorced and running off with your mistress?

Heh. Thank heaven my insurance company doesn't have access to my work computer's browser's history from today. They'd come to the conclusion that I suffer from numerous maladies, from heart disease to skin conditions, a thyroid and prolactin disorder (which causes lactation,) several cancers and infertility.
posted by zarq at 1:40 PM on November 5, 2009


"Web History" right above YouTube. If it's not listed, you probably don't have it enabled for your account. You have to manually turn it on, I think.

Thanks. Seems I never enabled this feature.
posted by fake at 2:02 PM on November 5, 2009


What will be interesting is how this data will be used three or four generations from now. Think about this: what will it mean when you/they can search your genetic history (23andme?) and tie it to internet preferences across generations? Not just grandpa to dad to son, but across cousins, fifth cousins, etc. I don't mean it as a conspiracy theory, but in all likelihood in 2060 we'll be googling chunks of DNA sequence to see what comes up, right?

Think of the Adsense revenue when you can target genotype to phenotype.

/privacy settings
posted by TheLastPsychiatrist at 2:10 PM on November 5, 2009


Faint of Butt: It's Alan Smithee.

I had to look up who that was, but well done. Good choice. Makes me wonder if even unadulterated reality and perception might also someday be branded and then I answered my own question when I realized that would be Google itself.

I'm purely speculating really, obviously I'm not going to sue anyone, but the ontological nature of Google's "commodity" makes it an interesting metaphysical sorta debate, especially because it seems like such a strange juxtaposition of materialism via commodity derived from pre-packaged tagged and branded empiricism.

It's an amazing business model. makes my head-spin too, with how neat it is.

It reminds me of that Sci-fi story where all the computers in the world are connected and begin to gather more and more and more data until they possess all the data in the universe and someone asks the computer "What is God?" or "Does God exist?" and the machine says: Yes, God exists. I am God.
posted by Skygazer at 2:13 PM on November 5, 2009


Yeah, apparently YouTube shows your age.

Is this on by default? Hmm. Anyway, to turn it off:

Account (in the top right of YT) -> Profile Setup -> Personal Details -> Do Not Display My Age.

(age is used for content restrictions for 'racy' content)
posted by wildcrdj at 4:03 PM on November 5, 2009


If I search for Bing and I right click on the result to copy it I get...
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=1&ved=0CAkQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bing.com%2F&ei=vmzzSvKGJIKMswODyvkC&usg=AFQjCNH_kUbuWB-3hS1tAW84OLUSYqT8MQ&sig2=q1dCCC0fEzycjmrgrWAZuQ

Is that as a result of web history being turned on???
posted by peacay at 4:25 PM on November 5, 2009


No, it always does that. If you have web history turned off, it's just to record which link you clicked for that search query, so they can possibly move it up in the listings. Clicked links are considered to be better results.
posted by smackfu at 4:37 PM on November 5, 2009


Oops, I tested it and I guess it doesn't. If you logout, it doesn't mess with the links.
posted by smackfu at 4:39 PM on November 5, 2009


I'll rephrase. Is there any way to stop that incredibly annoying feature while I'm logged into google, does anyone know? I often search for stuff just to copy the URL.
posted by peacay at 4:46 PM on November 5, 2009


Hmm, I can't get it to do that when logged in. It just gives me the URL "http://www.bing.com". I'm just right-clicking and choosing "Copy Link Address" on the title in Chrome.

Unless you mean the ad, not the result? I do get that sort of thing for the ad (Sponsored Link, in a different color) for Bing. But the first non-ad result (which is also Bing) just gives me the straight URL.

Ads do this for somewhat obvious reasons (tracking clicks so we can charge the advertiser).
posted by wildcrdj at 4:57 PM on November 5, 2009


It's a fairly random occurrence whether Google rewrites the links or not. Sometimes they track clickthroughs via javascript, sometimes they track by rewriting the URL to a redirect. It depends on whether you're logged in, your search options, any current experiments, etc. I'm sure someone knows more precisely when, but after trying to understand it for several years I'm content just thinking it's random.

The rewriting is really obnoxious.
posted by Nelson at 5:01 PM on November 5, 2009


Google isn't rewriting links for me, but it does somehow interdict the click and send you through the redirect. It's actually fairly useful for Google to do that, they'll know which links get clicked more and how long it takes people to click.

This is really great, and more companies should follow on. In fact, it should be mandatory.
posted by delmoi at 9:29 PM on November 5, 2009


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