Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Google dashboard: Does it enhance privacy?

November 5, 2009Privacy

With a new Google dashboard, unveiled yesterday in Spain, we'll be able to monitor the information Google has about us in its various applications, from gmail to YouTube. This is the kind of disclosure privacy advocates have been calling for. I think it will enhance Google's reputation--and entice us to share more data with them (which may be the ultimate goal).

I also think this new dashboard will help Google get a better look at each one of us. Here's why. Last summer, I was having a not-for-attribution chat with a senior Google official. I asked him what Google knew about me. He told me that within Google's data centers, there were gazillionss of data bits about all of the company's users, their searches, click, emails, YouTube uploads, etc. But he said it would be loads of work to bring all of this data together and build individual profiles. What's more, it would require lots of computing, and there wasn't a clear business model for it.

UPDATE:
I just got a clarification from Google:

Its not an individual profile of the different products and doesn't correlate the data.  Instead, the Dashboard was designed to scan the different products and services you use for a summary of the user data they each store individually.  The Dashboard does not access raw data from the services, does not correlate any cross services data and it does not collect or store any additional user data.  And when refreshing or closing your Dashboard page, all data is removed from the Dashboard.

But now, there appears to be a model. To address privacy concerns, Google appears to be bringing together much of that data. And once they have it, they're much closer to a coherent look at each one of us. Perhaps there's still not a business model for such personalized data. It'll be a while before advertisers can come up with 500 million customized pitches. But who knows what correlations Google will find between our various activities. And if this dashboard generates trust, the pickings should grow even richer.

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