With ‘About me,’ Google aims to simplify managing private info
If you’re concerned about the information Google tracks and displays about you, you’ll want to visit its newest page about you.
The search giant last week quietly rolled out a service called “About me,” through which account holders can review and revise the personal details they share across all Google sites and services.
The page, first spotted by a Google-watching blog, is a near carbon copy of users’ Google+ profiles: Depending on the personal information someone has added, it might include her birthday, work history, education, phone number, and mailing address. Through “About me,” any Google user can review or revise the information they share with the company privately and with Google searchers publicly.
“Data is the new oil—without it, you can’t compete. But the trick is being transparent about what you collect, and making privacy settings and opting out easy,” — Tyler Shields, Forrester Research analyst
All this data was compiled nearly four years ago, when Google consolidated its privacy policies and merged user information across its services. Details people provided in their YouTube account, for example, were compiled with those of their other Google accounts, such as Gmail and Play.
With “About me,” Google is trying to be more transparent about the personal data it collects and surfaces in search results, said Tyler Shields, principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Privacy is a continuously evolving target that no company can get perfect,” he said. “Data is the new oil—without it, you can’t compete. But the trick is being transparent about what you collect, and making privacy settings and opting out easy.”
“This will certainly make it easier for people,” said Chester Wisniewski, senior security adviser at Sophos. “It’s one spot where you can go and see the information you’re sharing, and make whatever changes you’re comfortable with.”
Google did not respond to a request for comment.
UPDATING “About me,” WHAT GOOGLE KNOWS ABOUT YOU
Editing your “About me” settings is simple. Google denotes the information you’ve shared publicly with a green globe and the information only privately shared with a gray lock. To change information from public to private—or vice versa—click the icon, and make your selection from the drop-down menu. You can also select particular Google+ circles with whom to share information.
Beside each header is a pencil icon. Click it to add details to a section, such as a description of your work history, or to delete information. At the bottom-right corner of the page is a red (+) button. Click it to add more sections of data to “About me.”
At the bottom of the page, you’ll also see a link to Google’s Privacy Checkup, a feature it launched in June that guides you through a comprehensive list of privacy settings for apps such as Photos, YouTube, and Google+, as well as security settings that cover account-connected devices, apps, and ads.
Simplicity is often joined by limits, and “About me” is no exception. To change your listed birthday, for example, Google redirects you to your My Account page. You can edit or hide your birthday, but you can’t delete it. You can update your name, but you can’t become anonymous. And you can make the entirety of your Education section public or private, but you cannot make your school name public and the year you graduated private.
“Cure your cast-iron pans, check the smoke detector batteries, and give a look to your social-media profiles to make sure you aren’t sharing beyond your comfort level,” — Chester Wisniewski, senior security adviser, Sophos
Google’s “About me” page is a step in the right direction for a company that has long been scrutinized for its data collection practices and privacy settings, Wisniewski of Sophos said. Noting Google’s recent uncoupling of services from Google+, including YouTube and Photos, he said, the service signals another break from efforts to make Google+ a successful social network.
“Your identity on Google services has been governed by your Google+ profile. Moving this information to a standalone page could hint at the company getting rid of the social network,” Wisniewski said. “But people have speculated about the end of Google+ for a while now, and it hasn’t happened.”
As the end of the year approaches, Wisniewski suggested that now is as good a time as ever for users to review their privacy settings.
“Cure your cast-iron pans, check the smoke detector batteries, and give a look to your social-media profiles to make sure you aren’t sharing beyond your comfort level,” he said.
“About me,” he added, is “a good place to start.”