Google knows who you are; if you care, use Dashboard

Posted: Sunday, November 15, 2009

Google knows more about you than even you would want to know about you.

And yet we don't seem to mind. That's because credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, et. al.) are easy acts to follow.

Unlike these companies that we love to hate, Google gives us stuff to pacify and distract us: e-mail accounts, access to tons of information, free blogging resources. As we type, Google takes notes about us.

On the other hand, Equifax et. al. don't give us any fun toys to play with. You don't really know they are there until a bank won't sell you a house because it thinks you are a guy who named Dana Smith who lives on East Aurora Street in a town called Oakwood who never paid his mortgage, when in fact you are really a woman named Dana Smith who lives on Oakwood Street in a town called East Aurora who made a killing in the foreclosure market.

I know people who have tried to fix errors like these. Most of us do. Trying to gain entry to a credit service monolith is aggravating, time consuming and often futile. No wonder we hate credit reporting companies. But need them. But hate them. We want to scream at them, "Dummies! Serve ME not the bank!" before we beg them for a favorable credit report.

Google got smart. It knows we don't like data collection companies. So, it takes our data, gives us cool tools, and now is going to give us Dashboard, which supposedly is going to allow us to edit the information it collects about us. We call up our Google account, decide we don't like information see and change it. That simple. Our own private wikipedia.

There is another option: let the consumers drive the data collection effort. That is, rather than sneak around behind our backs collecting data when we aren't looking, information services could offer their services up front. We could hire them to keep our information for us and represent us in the global data market. We could leave it up to them to get us off mailing lists we don't like, and on those we do. We could hire them to do things like manage our Facebook Christmas card address book, and tell every mortgage company that e-mails us with the next cool way to refinance our home that we are doing just fine.

Google's Dashboard seems to be heading for a middle-of-the-road-approach. They will collect data, while we aren't looking, but let us see it afterword. But we would have to care enough to look - and most of us won't. It's just one more thing to do. We'd rather just play with the cool toys and trust that Google will live up to its own motto, "Don't be evil."

• Jason Ohler is a retired professor of educational technology at the University of Alaska Southeast and can be reached at His Web site is

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