My 11/22/09 Missoulian column
As an Internet user, we should all be aware that online companies gather lots of information on us and our online habits. This information is gathered by the Web sites we visit, and some companies – such as Google – also track usage of their many other services.
We can delete Web browser history and “cookies” — the method by which Web sites track your visits — but other information can’t be deleted, because companies keep it for their own marketing use.
As I pointed out last week, Google recently offered a new service that allows users to control some of the information that is gathered. Even if you don’t use Google for any services except for Web search, Google is still gathering data on your searches, but it’s more anonymous because Google can’t associate your account with your Web searches.
But Google’s new Privacy Dashboard allows users to control some of the account information gathered. Go to www.google.com/dashboard, and log in with your Google account name (usually your Gmail address without the @gmail.com).
At the top of the Dashboard is your basic account information, and a link to manage your account. Below are links to other Google services you may be using, their privacy policies and private information controls.
At the very least, you’ll see your Contacts and recent Gmail conversations, pulled in from Gmail. Farther down is Web history; this is one service where you have the option to control private information.
If you never log out of your Gmail account, you’ll have a long Web history, which is a list of Web sites you’ve visited or things you’ve searched for. You can “Remove items or clear Web History” and turn it off, too.
Your Web History might surprise you, but that’s what Google does: collects vast amounts of information on user’s habits. And if you use other Google services, you’ll find other items to check and delete.
That’s one criticism of the Dashboard by privacy advocates; they say there should be one button to click to delete all private info that Google offers the option on deleting (as well as the information that Google doesn’t offer the option on).
But Google’s Dashboard does give a window, albeit small, into Google’s information gathering practices, and it’s a good idea to check it out.