Internet users worried about Google publicly sharing their personal information now have a way of controlling what others can see of that information.
The company has quietly rolled out a new About Me tool in which individuals can get a consolidated view of the personal data that Google has on them such as their birthday, home address, work history, gender, their social media sites and places they have previously lived.
Individuals can use the tool to turn on privacy settings for information that they do not wish others to see, or to edit and update incorrect or outdated information.
The About Me page also gives users the option of specifying the category of people who can see their data. Users, for instance, can choose to let only those in their immediate circle or extended circle see certain data elements. Or they can set up a customized list of people who are allowed to view their personal information. In addition, users have the option of making the information completely private if they want to.
The information on About Me is organized by category, and users have the ability to change or edit the setting on each one separately. For example, someone might decide to keep public details about his or her education or work place but enable only private access to photo albums on Picasa or on Photos.
People have had the ability to do some of this, but only at an individual app and service level. With About Me, Google has given users one place to go for controlling and managing access to their personal details on the Internet.
A "Privacy Check" option on the About Me page lets individuals see and adjust the data that Google uses to deliver targeted advertisements. By clicking through the options on Privacy Check, users can get a complete listing of their interests, as deduced by Google from their activities and interactions on Google sites, like the kind of videos they watch on YouTube. They can then control the ads they want delivered on their Google accounts, across all devices, by simply checking or unchecking the box next to each interest. Plus, people have the option of adding new interests so Google can deliver ads that are relevant to those interests.
In addition, the Privacy Check feature allows individuals to decide the tabs that are visible to people who might visit their profile pages on Google sites. For example, by checking or unchecking the box next to each item, an individual can decide whether to give visitors the option of seeing their photos, reviews or YouTube videos.
Included in the many controls available on Google's new About Me tool is an option that lets users choose the extent to which they want their experience personalized on each Google site. Individuals can view the broad criteria that Google uses for personalization purposes, such as their search and content browsing history, their location history and their YouTube watch history. A "Manage Activity" option gives people the ability to delete, update or block any of the items from being used to deliver a personalized experience.
Google is often at the center of concerns over the user tracking and data collection practices of major Internet companies. The company's decision to launch the About Me tool should help alleviate at least some of those concerns by giving users the ability to view and control how the company uses at least some of the data.