Tag Archives: privacy

Google search to get more personal

Google search is about to get even more personal – possibly. If you are signed in to your Google account and search Google.com, Google includes and highlights content from people in your networks. This has been available for some time but a couple of months ago Google launched a field trial that added your Gmail to the search mix, and a few days ago they added documents from Drive. You have to request to be added to the field trial and it only works on Google.com. If you are interested in trying it out you can signup at https://www.google.com/experimental/gmailfieldtrial.

Above your results Google.com tells you how many personal and other results have been found. A head and shoulders icon next to a result indicates that it is from someone in one of your networks. Click on the number of personal results to see just those. Across to the right there are a head and shoulders and world icons. If you want to hide the personal results click on the world icon. If you have searched on a person or an organisation their Google+ profile, if they have one, is shown to the right of the screen. Above this, any messages or documents in your Gmail and Drive that match your search are displayed.

Google Field Trial - Gmail and Drive

I have mixed feelings about this. At first I was very much against the integration of personal posts and data with general search. If I want to search Google+ I’ll do it within Google+, and similarly I go into Gmail if I want to search my email. However, I would not routinely do that for research projects and during this field trial I have sometimes found useful information in my Google+ circles, giving me a very different view of the topic/person/organisation I am investigating. The question then is can I pass this on to a client or include it in a report? The answer is not straightforward. If the Google+ posting has been made public and not restricted to a circle then yes. Otherwise I would have to obtain the person’s permission to use it or pass it on. With Gmail I would have to obtain permission from all the parties concerned and I would also need to check the ownership of any documents identified within my Drive.

I can clearly see and understand the difference between public and private search results as I am sure all information professionals and many researchers can, but I do wonder about other Google users. “It’s come up in a Google search so I’m free to use it as I want”. It could be argued that you shouldn’t put anything up on Google+ unless you don’t mind it going public, even if you have restricted it to a small circle of contacts but email should remain private and be kept out of general search results. I can see legal actions looming!

This is a limited field trial, though, so not everyone who uses Google.com is seeing the Gmail and Drive results yet. If you do take part in the trial and have any concerns about how it works and potential privacy issues, there are feedback links next to the Gmail and Drive results. Use them!

Presentation: Search Turns Social – Resistance is Futile

The presentation I gave to CILIP in Hants & Wight yesterday (Search Turns Social – Resistance is Futile) is now available on authorSTREAM at http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/karenblakeman-1392940-search-turns-social-resistance-futile/

It is also available on Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/KarenBlakeman/search-turns-social-resistance-is-futile and temporarily on my web site at http://www.rba.co.uk/as/

Removing information about you from Google

A question that I am often asked during my workshops is how can one persuade Google to remove a page or information from the web. Sometimes the person wants personal photos or videos to be removed or they are asking on behalf of a company who wants less than flattering comments and opinions deleted. In most cases Google does not control the content put up on web sites or social media, it merely indexes it. So the short answer is that you cannot make Google remove information you do not like except in very specific circumstances, for example copyrighted material on YouTube, images of you or your house on Street View.

“Removing Your Personal Information From Google”
http://searchengineland.com/removing-your-personal-information-from-google-55014 is an excellent overview from Search Engine Land of how you should go about having sensitive information removed (if possible) and dealing with negative publicity. Your first move is to contact the web site owner yourself but unless the information is libellous, breaches copyright or data protection laws you might not have much luck. Suing the web site owner is an option but you could end up generating even more bad publicity for you and your organisation. Swamping out the negative information with your own positive responses is by far the best approach and one that requires you to know how to use social media.

The oft cited example of  how not to tackle bad publicity is that of Nestle. (Just Google Nestle social media fail or Nestle social media disaster.) “Nestle fails at social media – Attempts to censor Facebook” from TechEye http://www.techeye.net/internet/nestle-fails-at-social-media is a neat summary of the events. There are also umpteen Slideshare presentations on how Nestle “did it wrong”. Many people have forgotten or never knew what the original argument was about, but after the social media debacle the perception of Nestle as corporate bad boys was reinforced.

The Search Engine Land posting has links to other articles offering sound advice on the topic including:

The Real Lesson In the Yelp User Review Lawsuit
http://www.ninebyblue.com/blog/social-media/the-real-lesson-in-the-yelp-user-review-lawsuit/

and

Official Google Webmaster Central Blog: Managing your reputation through search results
http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/10/managing-your-reputation-through-search.html (I love the bit “.. don’t assume that just because your mom doesn’t read your blog, she’ll never see that post about the new tattoo you’re hiding from her.“)

Google thinks I’m male

I have always suspected that there was something different about me. Am I slightly eccentric, totally bonkers, or perhaps I am an alien from another planet? Google has the answer. After believing for the whole of my life that I am female Google tells me I am male!

I am giving a presentation this week in Edinburgh to the Scottish Financial Crime Group about what Google knows about us as individuals. For the purposes of accurate research I enabled Google’s web search history, suspended my usual advert and cookie management, and disabled my browsers’ ad blocking plugins. The ads drove me mad and my Google search results began to go all over the place. It was a ghastly experience. I was not, though, expecting my Google’s ad preferences page to tell me that based on the pages I had viewed it had deduced I was male (stop sniggering at the back). Here is the screen shot of my ads preferences:

Googles ads preferences

Google obviously thinks that we ladies are not interested in business, computers, internet or social media. So what would classify me as female? Viewing recipes perhaps? Shopping for clothes online? Or visiting  pages about embroidery?

Normality has now been restored to my computer and I have regained my sanity. I have disabled web history, opted out of targeted advertising, re-implemented my cookie management procedures and re-enabled my ad blocking plugins.

If you want to see what Google thinks about you, go to http://www.google.com/ads/preferences/

What Google knows about you(1): check your dashboard

Many of us are well aware that the search engines track how we search and what we click on. This information is used to build up a profile of you and provide a personalised service, not only for the advertisements that are presented on your results page but also for search results. Google in particular is an expert in personalisation. At the end of last year Google announced that it would store your search history on your computer by default. (See “Your Google results are about to get weirder” at http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2009/12/17/your-google-results-are-about-to-get-weirder/.) There are much more obvious ways, though, in which Google can build up a picture of your online habits: Googlemail, Google Reader, iGoogle, blog and news alerts to name just a few. But can you remember what you have set up on your Google account? Check out your Google Dashboard and be prepared for a few surprises.

Go to http://www.google.com/dashboard/ and sign in with your account. As one would expect, at the top of your dashboard is your personal information: name, nickname, user name and email address but also included in this group is “Websites authorized to access the account”. Nothing of interest here, I thought, but I had forgotten that a few months ago I had been testing out Mapalist, which is a tool that enables you to create mashups of data with Google maps. I had allowed Mapalist access to Google Docs so  that I could create a spreadsheet within Docs that could then be combined with a Google map. I am quite happy for this to continue as I shall be carrying on with the experiment but it is worth checking this section on a regular basis to ensure no unwanted applications have sneaked in. Also, an application that you are quite happy to allow at the moment could be sold to an organisation that has very different intentions and ideas of how it wants to use your data, and it may not necessarily be to your advantage.

Most of the sections and applications are what you might expect. Alerts are fairly straightforward but it is worth having a clear out of unwanted search alerts. In my account there are Analytics, Books and MyLibrary, Gmail and contacts, Google Buzz and ‘followers’ and ‘following’, Calendar, Custom Search Engines, details of my Google Docs, iGoogle tabs and gadgets, maps that I have created, Google reader subscriptions and Web history (in my case switched off). What came as a surprise to me was that I had two purchases in Google checkout. At first I thought my account had been hacked but as soon as I checked the information I was reminded that 18 months ago I had bought services from Google. Full credit/debit card information is not displayed but it does give the last 4 digits, so you can carry out a quick check if you spot a suspect transaction.

Another surprise for me was Picasa. I was certain that I had never uploaded any images but there were 3 photos sitting in the account. They had been put there by Google when I was playing around with the latest Google customisable home page background image. I vaguely recall Google telling me it was going to do that but did not take much notice at the time. I don’t have any problems with them being there but it is an example of how Google sucks you into services that you would not normally consider using.

And then there is YouTube. In my account this shows my YouTube username, gender, age and post code, all of which I had supplied when I set up the account. Also displayed were my viewing history, favourites, subscriptions and contacts.

The “Other products” section summarises Google products that you are using but which are not yet available on the dashboard. In my case there was my Feedburner account, Google Groups and Google Squared documents.

The Google dashboard serves as a reminder of which Google products you have signed up for and what Google has made publicly available about you. It also highlights how much information you have given to Google about yourself. Google makes a lot of user generated content public by default, for example Maps and My Library, and all the public ‘stuff’ in your dashboard has a small people icon next to it. If you do nothing else, work your way through everything in your dashboard and double check the privacy settings for each application and document. Equally important, it emphasises the importance of signing out of your Google account before leaving your machine unattended. Leave your browser signed in and anyone can come along and see in detail what you have on your Google account.