Google takes a moral and ethical beating from people who don't like the search company storing their computer information, user ID, IP address, etc.
Now the company has found a way to address privacy concerns by adding a new measure of protection to its popular Gmail Web mail application, which is used by tens of millions of users.
Google has begun slowly rolling out a feature that lets users track their recent sessions and sign themselves out remotely. This is key for users who may access their Gmail from computers other than their own.
For example, some users who don't have their laptops with them may like to check their Gmail from an Internet café.
On a personal note, I accessed my Gmail account when I was in Italy last week (for some reason, my wife forbade me to bring my laptop with me on my honeymoon. Fancy that!).
Some users will start seeing information about the time of their last activity on their account and whether it's still open in another location. This, including the IP address of the computers you are accessing Gmail from, will show up in a box at the bottom of their inbox.
By clicking on a details link within this same box, users can read more information about the account, including info on any open sessions, IP address and whether e-mail was accessed via iGoogle or a mobile phone. A recent activity table contains times of access.
You may not see this yet, but it's been activated on my account, logging that I've accessed Google both through my iGoogle page and straight through a Firefox browser as of today.
Google said in a blog post it is rolling this feature out to the latest version of Gmail, which is available for Firefox and Internet Explorer 7.
What's the big deal, you ask? Honestly, this won't matter a lick for most Gmail users. Yet, gearheads who like to know the skinny on their Internet access can keep tabs with this useful feature.
People who are paranoid will love this perk and will delight in the more granular control they have over their Gmail access.
This feature -- coincidentally or not, you decide -- comes just six days after the company was told by a St. Louis judge it must cough up information about its YouTube video-sharing users and five days after the company caved to advocates and California law by placing a privacy link on its front door.
I appreciate and applaud Google's olive branch to users and its broader effort at granting users more control.
But, the company still has a pitched battle to fight versus privacy advocates and Congress, which are aghast and befuddled, respectively, by the company's position that IP addresses don't tip users' privacy.
With that mountainous backdrop in mind, this feature is minor indeed.