Google privacy tool unveiled

Google sought to alleviate the concerns of privacy campaigners on Thursday by unveiling new tools that will allow users to see what information the internet company is keeping on them.

Users who have signed up for Google’s consumer services, such as Gmail, Blogger, Picasa, and YouTube will be able to see a “dashboard” listing the personal details stored about them. Users will be able to edit and delete the information.

It is similar to the tools Google introduced this year to allow people to see the profile of interests it was building up about them in order to serve targeted advertising.

As Google offers people an increasing number of services from search to cloud computing, scrutiny of its privacy practices has increased.

This year a leading privacy group called on the US Federal Trade Commission to shut down Google’s web services until it could ensure better safeguards for personal data. There were mounting concerns that technical problems were making personal information on Google Docs, Google Desktop and Gmail visible to other users.

Privacy campaigners welcomed the new dashboard, launched at a conference of data protection commissioners in Madrid. “If the rest of the industry took this line, we would start to solve some of the problems with privacy,” said Simon Davies of Privacy International.

The new dashboard will not answer some of the key data protection concerns hanging over Google. It does not show the information Google collects when people use its internet search engine, which accounts for most of the company’s data.

It is technically difficult for Google to include search data in the dashboard, because people do not sign in to use the search service in the same way as an e-mail account or blogging site.

Search data remains a source of tension between Google and European data protection officials. European officials would like such data kept for no more than six months, while Google wants to retain it for nine.

No data commissioner has yet taken Google to task on the discrepancy but privacy issues have moved higher up the agenda in Brussels, with Meglena Kuneva, consumer affairs commissioner, highlighting them as a concern.

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