Google streamlines privacy tools, but consumers probably won't change anything
Google is being a little more forthcoming about the information it collects.
The company has introduced new tools that allow consumers to see what Google knows about them, from their location history to their YouTube searches. The new website will also allow people to check on their account security and manage settings for their social profiles, Android devices, and other utilities.
"When you trust your personal information with us," the company says, "You should expect powerful controls that keep it safe and private as well as useful answers to your questions."
It's important to note that Google isn't giving consumers any more control than they had before. The company is just collecting these settings into one place -- which is certainly preferable to having them strewn across multiple websites -- and shuffling people through their various options faster than it has in the past.
That will be enough for many people. Privacy concerns tend to be mitigated when people know what information is being collected, how it's being shared, and what they can do about it, even if they never end up changing anything. And let's be honest: Google isn't hoping people will rethink what they share.
Every setting on this new website explains why it's necessary to share this information with Google. Location history improves Google Maps. Browsing history improves Google Now. Information about your speaking is used to help Google improve the language recognition tools used in many of its products.
Google uses all the data it collects. This website makes that clear, and it almost seems like a warning to consumers: if they ask the company to stop gathering so much information, they're not going to have access to all the cool shit Google is building, and its services won't be as useful as they otherwise might have been.
I've argued in the past that Google's greatest trick is convincing people that convenience trumps privacy. This new website shows that in another way -- by making it so easy to change privacy settings, Google can address criticism about its data collection without having to actually change anything about its services.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]