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Consumer Watchdog: Google Dashboard a small step for user control

Posted: November 6, 2009 1:52 p.m.
Updated: November 6, 2009 2:01 p.m.
 
SANTA MONICA - The new Google Dashboard touted by the Internet giant as offering users "transparency, choice and control" of user data stored by the company doesn't give consumers adequate control over protecting their information from Google's marketing machine, Consumer Watchdog said today.

Consumer Watchdog applauded the company for giving consumers a single place to go to manage data, but said Google needed to give consumers the ability to stop being tracked by the company and to delete information associated with their computer's IP address from the Google servers.

"If Google really wanted to give users control over their privacy it would give consumers the ability to be anonymous from the company and its advertisers in crucial areas such as search data and online behavior," said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog. "The Dashboard gives the appearance of control without the actual ability to prevent Google from tracking you and delivering you to its marketers."

"What the Dashboard does is list all the information linked directly to your name, but what it doesn't do is let you know and control the data directly tied to your computer's IP address, which is Google's black box and data mine," Simpson said. "Google isn't truly protecting privacy until it lets you control that information."

Consumer Watchdog said Google should offer a simple "Make-me-anonymous" or "Don't track" button or icon on its home page, or at the very least in its Dashboard, that would prevent search information from being logged at the choice of the user.

"Google is maximizing the PR value of this feature in response to critics who have demanded online privacy guarantees," Simpson said. "They are letting a little light shine into the black box that is Google, but to claim that this is transparency is absurd."

The new feature does give users an eye-opening look at how much data Google collects, but Google still gives no explanation of how it uses the data it has accumulated.

Moreover, Dashboard does not give the user any ability prevent search information from being logged or to prevent Google from tracking a user's online activity while surfing the web, said the nonprofit, nonpartisan Consumer Watchdog.

After signing into a Google account from the Google home page a user is able to access the Dashboard through the account's settings function.

Clicking on link "View data stored with this account" next to the heading "Dashboard" asks for password verification and then displays a page with the various Google services like Gmail, Docs and Picasa. It shows what information is stored with the services listed and gives links to manage the data and various privacy settings for the service.

The group also said that the Dashboard, though useful, is not easy to find.

"If they want people to use this, why isn't there a direct link from the home page?" asked Simpson. "In other contexts Google likes to say competition is one click away. They've buried the Dashboard. The extra password verification is a good security measure, but why can't you get there with one click from a Dashboard link on the home page?"

Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, CA.

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