Google steps up its privacy game, launches Good To Know

Google just launched Good To Know, a simple and growing guide to Google's tools and information about privacy and safety online.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

With today's news about Google's new search encryption default, it's easy to miss Google's new privacy and personal data control resource center, Good To Know.

Google quietly published Good To Know yesterday.

Good To Know aims to inform internet users about what's going on with their Google data, and guide users to tools they can use to control how their data is used. Within limits, of course.

If you wonder what Google thinks it knows about you, and what you can do about it, you'll want to give Good To Know a close look.

It was announced that the main Good To Know campaign will be an ad campaign in the UK in conjunction with the UK's National Citizens Advice Bureau, yet the Good To Know site is aimed at all Google consumers worldwide.

Interesting Timing for Google

Good To Know is an interesting thing for Google to do right now. Google has definitely had its share of privacy blunders, and ongoing issues about privacy and seemingly pathological issues around anonymity remain.

Still, no other company of Google's girth is interested in drawing attention to itself around user data use and privacy.

And I think that's part of why Google has done this: to set themselves apart. For instance, Apple doesn't have a Chief Privacy Officer. It should. Every other company that makes widgets and clogs bandwidth these days has one so it's no surprise to see Google step up its game - and it's really quite shocking (conspicuous?) that companies like Apple are falling behind in this arena.

One example in which I see Google taking a shot across the bow of its competitors with the privacy and transparency push is in Google's Good To Know explanation of its +1 button, in comparison to Facebook's "Like" button.

We all know Facebook is a privacy and transparency nightmare, with plenty of "ignore the man behind the curtain" rhetoric and action. The "Like" button was recently called out for tracking people across the web whether or not they were even logged into Facebook (which the company denied and then admitted was happening). Facebook is now being sued for alleged violation of Federal wiretap laws in relation to the cookie in the middle of it all (though I think it's doubtful that the charges will stick).

On Good To Know the +1 button has its own little section, and beyond that it links to the Google+ privacy Policy with a fuller explanation of the button's actions; notably stating that the button does not track users across the web.

A Great Resource For The Privacy Novice

The resource is a rich privacy control resource for people that don't have technical knowledge (read: most people). If your mom doesn't understand the difference between malware and Tupperware, or thinks that phishing sounds like a relaxing weekend distraction, just send her the link already.

They did it right: it covers areas privacy nerds of all levels will appreciate, while the simple language makes it a great entry-level primer for anyone. And it looks like the privacy team is still busy stacking it up daily with tips and links to tools.

Good To Know is clearly also a way for Google to showcase its Security Tools - and to send a clear message to its rivals that Google is determined to be the prettiest girl on show in the web privacy beauty pageant.

If you're a privacy fetishist, Good To Know has its limits and unanswered questions, of course.

Good To Know has four different categories:

Each section breaks down into subcategories where visitors can drill a little deeper into specific topics via the left-hand sidebar.

Topics include info and further links to tools and policies, and some sections are tricked out with informative videos explaining various topics. Some of the videos are clearly designed to be ad campaign friendly.

The sections also have "read more" suggestions to specific privacy guides, and all sections link to their Partners and Resources on the Good To Know project, and a definition of terms called Jargon Buster.

The Jargon tool is a nice piece of simple explanation that pretty much everyone should read. It's exactly what you send to friends when they read about Facebook's cookies and want to know what the hell a cookie is, what an IP address is, why they should care about logs that don't go on a fire, and a sampling of the basic flavors of malware.

Speaking of logs: Google's Privacy Channel on YouTube has been going crazy with new video updates for the past five days. Today's video update is, "What Is A Search Log?"

Everyone Should Know What Google (Thinks It) Knows About Them

Google's Good To Know will be useful for more than just tech-unsavvy friends and family members.

I'm all for anything that tells more people that Google has a Privacy Center with its fair lot of tools that can be used to control what Google thinks it knows about you. That's linked from Good To Know, notably from Your Data On Google > Other Google Products and Privacy.

In there is a handy link to all of Google's Privacy Policies, for all of its services.

Google's Good To Know also provides a light explanation about their use of search data and internet-based advertising.

Google - and other big companies in the data business - are not going to let us really control everything, at least until we have more rights over our data. It is a business, after all.

Of course, your search data assists in putting together an advertising profile for you, which is theoretically mutually beneficial. The "hope" is that providing a more targeted ad will increase the likelihood of a user clicking on it, and provide the user a helpful result and Google more revenue.

We're all starting to learn that the devil is in the data. I'm betting a lot of people aren't aware that Google basically reads their browsers to put together a profile of interests - Google's guess about who you are and what you're interested in seeing in terms of advertising.

The Your Data > Advertising page explains,

Throughout this process we don’t store your name or keep any personal information about you. We just recognize the number stored in your browser, and show ads related to the interest categories associated with your cookie (so we’re recognizing your browser, not you).

We don’t show ads based on sensitive information or interests, like race, religion, sexual orientation, health, or sensitive financial categories.

I was pleased to see that the Good To Know page explains that you can see the categories Google has associated with your browser - your profile - and change it (or opt-out altogether) in the Ads Preferences Manager.

Go there - you may be as amused as I was when I saw that Google thinks my browser persona is a male, aged 18-24. That's what I get for spending all that time looking at cute birds online. Or maybe it's all the porn. Yeah, okay...

In all, Good To Know turns out to be a great link to send people who want to explore nailing down their Google data controls.

It also made me realize that on the internet, no one knows when you're a girl:

Photo by Robert Scoble under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license, via Flickr.

Editorial standards