Google Now Comes With Monthly Statement
Wednesday morning, Google announced that users with a Google Account could sign up to get a monthly "Activity Report" itemizing their use of some of the Web giant's services. Opting into this takes all of one click after you sign into your account; an email inviting me to check out my first report, covering from Feb. 27 through March 25, arrived maybe half an hour later.
The results, as you can see below, were alternately fascinating and boring.
Google's record of the locations, Internet providers, operating systems and browsers from which I'd logged into my account could have been a breadcrumb trail across the United States — except for the lack of a corresponding map. But because I use my primary Gmail account mainly for online shopping, these stats offered minimal insight about my overall email habits.
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And because Google's tracking of my Web-search history stopped on April 22, 2005 — I don't remember why I decided to pause it on that day — that part of my report had nothing at all. The same went for Google's Latitude location-sharing service, which I don't ever remember using.
I could see that my long-dormant YouTube account had netted a few dozen views. But the nondormant Picasa photo-sharing account that's been steadily collecting pictures via Google+ automatic photo uploading didn't even earn a listing.
At a Google Apps account I use for my work email, my Activity Report testified that I had sent 300 emails that month (unsurprisingly, the top two recipients edit my articles) and received 1,773. The busiest day was Thursday, March 15, when 166 messages landed in my inbox. But no other useful or merely salacious details surfaced on that page; it seems I had avoided doing any Web searches while signed into that account.
It was reassuring to see so many blank spots in Google's view of me, especially after the controversy over its recent consolidation of privacy policies.
But this monthly statement isn't a complete accounting. Beyond sign-in details, Gmail, Web history, YouTube, Picasa and Latitude, a Google representative said the report only factors in security-settings changes. (If you see any you didn't make yourself, change your password immediately). The company plans to add unspecified services in the coming months.
I suspect that adding Google Maps queries, which often pinpoint your home and maybe also your shopping habits, would change that picture the most. Google Docs usage and the volume of synced calendar and contacts entries might also provide a few eye-opening moments. To see all of those relationships, you need to inspect your Google Dashboard, which offers less detail about recent usage but lists every sort of authorized access.
This will be a feature worth watching. On one level, Google's Activity Reports should appeal to digital narcissists everywhere: Alongside data like Foursquare check-in histories, blogging page-view stats, and other personal metrics you can gather with tools such as the new ThinkUp web service, they constitute yet another way your online identity can keep score.
But by quantifying just what Google has seen you do in the past month — a statistical perspective not as easy to find at Facebook, even after its recent redesigns — these statements may also help Google users decide if they shouldn't cover up a little more when they log on.
Credit: Rob Pegoraro / Discovery