Google’s New Feature: Accounts Activity

Another day, another Google news item. Google has just launched a new opt-in feature called “Account Activity,” which gives Google users monthly password-protected reports on their Google dependency habits. This includes your Google search history, the places you’ve snorted Google, the amount of time you spent in a Google haze and the number of Google emails you’ve dealt and received. Google’s official blog, however, describes it as technology that allows you to, “step back and take stock of what you’re doing online.” It just so happens that what you’re doing online is probably always connected to Google somehow, and they can prove it because they have a log of every single thing you’ve ever done online ever, ever. That one time you searched for “how to add entire Miley Cyrus discography to Ipod”?  Yeah, they got that too.

Some context: a survey released earlier this month from the Pew Internet and American Life Project on search engine use found that 83 percent of search engine users employed Google most often, as opposed to 6 percent who used Yahoo and another 6 percent who used the rest. The remaining 5 percent didn’t know what search engine they used the most – probably because they were too entrenched in watching The Andy Griffith Show episodes on VHS while being surveyed. “‘Bing,’ you say? You’re talking about Bing Crosby? Ah yes, I used to listen to Bing Crosby several times a day back in the 50’s when it was the hip thing to do…..” Eddie Coleman, my graphic designing buddy, says that my Bing joke is a ‘fail.’ Well, YOU COME UP WITH A BETTER ONE… It hurts because it’s true :’-(

While Google is clearly the search engine of choice because of its simplicity and search result effectiveness, it doesn’t come without its trade-offs; 73 percent of those polled in the Pew survey agreed with the statement that said they would “NOT BE OKAY with a search engine keeping track of your searches and using that information to personalize your future search results because you feel it is an invasion of privacy,” and 68 percent agreed with the statement “I’m NOT OKAY with targeted advertising because I don’t like having my online behavior tracked and analyzed.”

In other words, we are cleary NOT OKAY with what Google does, but we all use it anyway. Now, with Google’s Account Activity tool, we can see some of what we’re NOT OKAY with – the data Google knows about us and uses for their targeted advertising and personalization of search results. No need to hide your Google habit any longer; everyone knows you have a problem now, including yourself.

But it’s not all negative; Google plans to add more security features to Accounts Activity that protect you from unauthorized users, which will make it stand out even further from Google Dashboard, another Google tool that lets you know how much they know. As the Accounts Activity feature currently stands, Google says, “if you notice sign-ins from countries where you haven’t been or devices you’ve never owned, you can change your password immediately and sign up for the extra level of security provided by 2-step verification.” Thanks, Google; now how about protecting us from Google? Individual users can start small in that process by deleting their Google web history, which then “pauses” future Google web history logging. You’re welcome.

All in all, Google’s Accounts Activity seems to be a feature that’s been rolled out mostly to quell rising user concerns about privacy. Google seems to be saying, ‘Here’s some of the data we know and use about you. It’s not so bad, is it?”

So is it? Will you be signing up for Google Accounts Activity?