privacy header Google Dashboard: Adding Transparency to the Web

By Tara Lane, Staff Writer

Web privacy is taking center stage as we transition more and more of our lives onto the web. Many people fall victim to breaches in privacy online. For years, people have been putting their trust in Google and other platforms to host and store sensitive data. Just a few weeks ago, passwords were leaked to more than 10,000 Google e-mail accounts, compromising that security.

How Google is Changing the Game

Google has heard the concerns of its users, and is changing the game as far as privacy is concerned. The Google Dashboard was launched on Thursday, as an all-in-one application allowing users to see how much Google knows about them. The information includes recent activity on other apps like Gmail, Docs, Reader and Maps, as well as secure payment information for Google Checkout. From there, users can adjust privacy settings, edit information they didn’t know was available, and much more.

Google has a history of empowering its users through information and accessibility, making it easy for anyone to set up an account and use the features. The Google Dashboard is another easy tool, and the one of the first application of its kind. Even if it’s not used daily, it’s comforting to know that the option exists, should the opportunity arise. On a smaller scale, Google introduced a similar feature within Gmail, with a link at the bottom of a page showing the latest IP addresses that logged into the account. Now, it’s widespread across the entire Google platform, with more added features.

So, How Safe Are We?

This raises the question about privacy in general – how safe are we? Mashable’s Pete Cashmore recently wrote a piece for CNN declaring that privacy is dead, and social media is to blame. With all of our social networks, our information is displayed for all to see, or as much as we allow it to be. With the introduction of real-time Twitter results in Bing and Google searches, that information is displayed across different platforms, when before it was limited to only one. Google Analytics users can pinpoint where their users are coming from. Blog tracking features allow other users to see who has come and gone before their visit. Basically – there’s no hiding anymore.

The Internet has gone from being a point of reference, to being an interactive, data-rich platform for almost any activity we can think of. For those comfortable having their information available, this isn’t really an issue. For others, there are options that enable one to be active on social networks, but still control your privacy.

* Facebook now allows users to adjust privacy settings down to the minute details, splitting friends into different lists and controlling who can see what.
* Twitter also has the option of keeping tweets private, so only those you allow will be able to see and respond to your messages, instead of the entire Twitterverse.
* For those with greater technical abilities, plugins for Firefox allow users to block their IP address from showing up on certain Web sites. While it can’t block your IP, Google Dashboard does make it easier to manage privacy for a wider, non-tech audience.

The official Google blog points out that Dashboard is a great leap for Internet transparency. Dashboard doesn’t hold anything back, and allows users more choice and control by giving them the ability to better manage both public and private information.

Cashmore points out in his CNN opinion piece that enabling so many privacy options takes the “social” out of social media. What’s the point of being a part of a network, if your ideas and products can’t be expressed to a wider audience? How can you grow as a user if those you target still feel like outsiders? Hopefully, other networks heed Google’s call and create similar features. If they do, those who had reservations of joining prior may finally feel comfortable putting it all out there. It’s all about listening to the wants and needs of the customer; Google has certainly taken a step in the right direction.

Image by Erik Araujo from Stock.Xchng