Google's Dashboard approach to privacy

Dashboard gathers privacy controls and settings for most Google services onto one page -- but only for Google accounts.

If you use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, or any of the ever-growing array of Google services, you may have cringed at the trove of personal data the company has gathered. To allay concerns, Google launched Dashboard, a single page housing privacy controls and settings for most of its services.

The Dashboard page, accessible at google.com/dashboard, gives you an overview of calendars or documents you share, your chat history, and sites you've authorized to access your Picasa pictures or Gmail contacts (such as a social networking site that can use your contact list to help you find other users, à la Facebook). You'll also find a list of search queries you've performed while logged in to Google. If you use the Google Toolbar and have enabled the Web history feature, you'll see your browsing history, too.

A Clean Search Slate

If seeing so much personal information stored on Google servers makes you un­­easy, you can clear it or stop sharing it. Click Remove items or clear Web history, and remove some or all search terms. If you wipe your search slate clean, Google will assume that you want to opt out of saving such data, and it will automatically stop doing so. You can tell Gmail to stop saving your chat history, and decide whether YouTube can use your Google account info to target ads.

Google hasn't created any new privacy features or options for Dashboard; it has just made them easier to find. And faster, effortless control over our personal data is clearly a good thing. "It's definitely progress," says Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a consumer and privacy advocacy group.

But Dashboard is no privacy panacea. For one thing, it allows access to saved data tied to a Google account, but not to information (such as saved searches) tied to the unique identifier within a cookie. Google that says doing so would raise additional privacy concerns, because while logging in to a Google account verifies a person's identity, you have no such login option for a cookie. And allowing anyone sitting at a PC to see all of the searches tied to a cookie currently on that PC could reveal plenty of sensitive information.

It's a valid concern, but both Schwartz and Marc Rotenberg, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, say that if the cookie-associated data is that sensitive, perhaps Google shouldn't be collecting it at all. That consideration, along with Dashboard's clear nudge to sign up for a Google account, leads Rotenberg to conclude that the new step is just "privacy theater," primarily for show, and isn't a real step toward securing users' sensitive information.

Security Starts at Home

Google and other online companies could do more to protect account holders' personal data. But the new Dashboard's promise of fast and easy access to settings and controls is a step forward.

Paradoxically, though, Dashboard can bust your privacy: If bad guys guess or steal your Google account information, they will have the same access to your Dashboard data that you have. So be sure to keep your Google password safe.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Googledashboard

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Erik Larkin

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?