“Have you ever wondered what data is stored with your Google Account?” Google asks, and privacy advocates and techy-minded people will quickly answer “YES!” Now Google’s Dashboard lets you see, but not delete, what’s stored about you in Google’s vault of mysteries.
The news will please those who are concerned that Google’s business involves it storing large (and possibly vast, deep, and highly personal) datafiles on how you interact with its search engine, mail and other services. That’s probably why Google chose to reveal Dashboard at an international data-protection conference this week in Spain. Google notes that “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,” which sounds sweet and fluffy, but you can assume that there’s a degree of lawsuit-avoidance mixed in with this plan.
Dashboard summarizes the data on each Google product you use, all in one place for convenience, and also links directly to privacy settings so you can influence–though only for those systems that require you to use a Google login. This is stuff like the number of Gmail conversations you’ve had, or the gadgets you’ve installed in iGoogle, documents in Docs, your YouTube profile and favorites and so on.
Of course, Google will still collect reams of data on your habits no matter what your privacy settings are (targeted advertising is, after all, how Google makes its millions), and will continue to collect data on Google searches you do despite this system not requiring a login. So Dashboard is a step forward, perhaps borrowing some of the concept of glasnost that the Obama administration has been beginning to spread around, but it’s merely a peephole into the digital version of yourself that Google’s building up–it doesn’t offer you much in the way of genuine control.