I like to pretend that I’m somewhat web savvy, and that I can generally guess where links on large websites will take me. This apparently isn’t the case with Blogger – I have a Blogger account to occasionally comment on blogs in the Google blogsphere, but despise the service enough that I don’t use the service. I do, however, have an interest in Google’s newly released Dashboard that is intended to show users what Google knows about them, and how their privacy settings are configured.
Given that I don’t use Blogger much, I was amazed and pleased to see that there was a link to the Dashboard in the upper-right hand corner of a Blogger page that I was reading when I logged in. Was this really the moment where Google made it easy for end-users to identify their privacy settings?
Alas, no. If I were a regular Blogger user I probably would have known better. What I was sent to when I clicked ‘Dashboard’ was my user dashboard for the blogger service itself. This seems to be a branding issue; I had (foolishly!) assumed that various Google environments that serve very different purposes would be labeled differently. In naming multiple things ‘dashboard’ it obfuscates access to a genuinely helpful service that Google is now providing. (I’ll note that a search for ‘Google Dashboard’ also calls up the App Status Dashboard, and that Google Apps also has a ‘Dashboard’ tab!)
Perhaps I should state this strongly: the Google Dashboard (with privacy and data settings) is genuinely useful for the end user It also leaves room for improvement. The Christian Science Monitor questions the Dashboard’s utility and whether it is a good idea to reveal all this information in one place. I honestly don’t see how this can possibly be understood as a criticism; Google has a large number of services linked through a common authentication system, and their Dashboard offers users a comparatively easy way of finding the data and privacy related settings for each service users subscribe to. I’ll be honest – I use my Blogger profile so rarely I’d forgotten I had one, and it was genuinely informative to learn what Google knew about me through it. It’s also nice to see what information is shared to the world (though, in fairness, I had no idea what the icon representing sharing meant until I did some searching: nothing appears when you hover over the icon!) The complaint that a browser could be set to remember a Dashboard password, and thus allow a third-party access to the Google Dashboard, strikes me as silly – isn’t there a danger that a key logger could be installed to capture that password? That if you were in a coffee shop that someone looking over your shoulder could see and Twitter your password? Please. A deeper cutting criticism might ask whether search data is characterized as ‘anonymized’ per the dash when Google is known to have an incredibly weak (bordering on ineffective) anonymization process for IP addresses. Such criticism parallels that of John Simpson with Consumer Watchdog, who recognizes that,
…there are few links to the tool from the landing pages of any Google properties. Simpson said Google also should make it easier for users to blow away stored search and activity data across multiple Google properties with a single click.
“Google is maximizing the PR value of this feature in response to critics who have demanded online privacy guarantees,” Simpson said in a written statement. “They are letting a little light shine into the black box that is Google, but to claim that this is transparency is absurd.” (Source)
While my complaint might be seem a bit trivial in comparison to Simpson’s- call Google Dashboard something distinctive – I really think that for the end-user it is critical for distinctive feature sets to hold distinctive names. Moreover, that name should be associated with key launchpad sites. Why not call it ‘Global Data and Privacy Settings’ or something along those lines? At the very least, then you’d it as the top hit on a Google search…