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Google adds new privacy controls in attempt to make people comfortable with search giant’s data collection

Published 01/06/2015

Google analyses people's interests and habits to show them ads about products most likely to appeal to them
Google analyses people's interests and habits to show them ads about products most likely to appeal to them

Google has added new privacy controls that it hopes will make its users more comfortable with the data that is collected on them as they use the service.

The new site collects all of the privacy options under a specific “My Account” hub. That site wraps up all the different privacy controls, allowing them all to be changed from one place, and also allows users to take a check-up where they can see what data is being gathered about them.

Users will now also be able to head to a special website where questions about privacy are answered. That includes sections on what data Google collects and what it does with that information, for instance.

Previously, users had to head to the privacy settings within each of its services, leaving the various options strewn out across the website. But the company has admitted that setup ran the risk of confusing users.

"It wasn't well organsed and we didn't give a lot of context," said Guemmy Kim, Google's product manager of account controls and settings. "We are trying to take the mystery out of privacy."

Most people want to get a better grip on their privacy as the confluence of widely used search engines, smartphones and online social networks makes it easier to track where they are, what they're doing and what they're thinking.

A recently released survey by the Pew Research Center found 93 percent of adults in the US consider being in control of their personal information to be important. Yet only 9 percent of the respondents felt they had a lot of control over their information and 50 percent said they had little or no control over their data.

Google analyses people's interests and habits to show them ads about products most likely to appeal to them. Ads generate most of Google's revenue, which totalled $66 billion last year.

Google's privacy controls enable people to limit the kinds of ads they see. Accountholders also can prevent Google from logging their activities on personal computers and mobile devices, though the company will warn that imposing those restrictions might result in less-relevant and slower results from search requests.

Facebook similarly uses what it gleans from people's activity on its social network to sell ads. Google's new privacy check-up tool is similar to a feature that Facebook unveiled nearly nine months ago.

The reliance of personal data to target ads has subjected both Google and Facebook to harsh criticism by privacy watchdogs and some competitors. Without identifying specific companies, Apple CEO Tim Cook last year posted an open letter warning that "when an online service is free, you're not the customer. You're the product."

Since 2010, Google has been reprimanded by regulators in the U.S. and Europe for a variety of privacy breaches, including exposing email contacts, secretly tracking users of Apple's Safari browser and snooping on Wi-Fi networks.

"We have had some privacy missteps, but we are always trying to learn from that and to serve our users better," said Kim.

Source: Independent

Independent News Service

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