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Google Dashboard: Its unintended uses (and abuses)

With Google Dashboard, users can access all of the data Google has stored about their account, all in one place – and this is a good thing?

By Andrew Heining / November 5, 2009

Google Dashboard got you confused? It's not too complicated, but it presents some troubling possibilities.

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On Thursday, Google announced Dashboard, a user's one-stop-shop for managing the information associated with their Google account. Cries of praise went up: "Yay for Google! Way to not be evil! Thanks for making it so easy to see all of this!"

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But did the clever folks at Google (and they are clever – have you seen Wave?) consider the other sides of what putting all of this information in one place can enable?

When reading about Dashboard and all its one-stop-shop-ness, one can't help but be reminded of the US strategy ahead of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor: keep all ships moored closely together to ward off sabotage. The only problem, as history tells us: that makes them sitting ducks when trouble comes calling.

Some have criticized Dashboard for not bringing anything new to the table – and it's true: all Dashboard does is provide a single page of links to the account management pages of the Google products a person uses. But it's not without utility – or completely harmless.

The most basic (and worst) unintended drawback of Dashboard? A lost (or unwisely shared) password. If private data is meant to be kept private, putting it all in one place is a great way to ensure that if a bad guy gets ahold of your password, he'll have access to everything. Yes, Google points out that Dashboard requires reentry of your password, so leaving your account logged in at a public computer isn't completely disastrous, but still. Really, Google? Is that a good idea?

(And more: PC World's Ian Paul points out that it's possible to tell one's browser to remember the password for the Google Dashboard page, so if a computer is lost or gets stolen, all Google data could be vulnerable.)

Another unintended feature of Google Dashboard? Its ability to freak us out. Yes, the concerns have been there from the beginning: 'Give Google access to every email I send?' 'Tell Google where I am?' 'Let Google record and transcribe my phone conversations?' But now, with Dashboard aggregating all of the aspects of our lives that we've signed away to Google, it's hard to just shrug off those concerns as "privacy wonk stuff."

What else is Dashboard good for? Breaking up with Google. While deleting a Google account still requires a visit to the Edit Services page, Dashboard provides a handy checklist of all the data a user has out there on Google – from a long forgotten Picasa presence to a signed-up-for but not-quite-activated Latitude login. Irreconcilable differences with a former Google feature? Dashboard provides a roadmap for navigating your amicable separation.

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Are we overreacting? What's your take on Google Dashboard, and how much is too much information to share with Google? Leave a comment or catch up with us on Twitter – we're @CSMHorizonsBlog.

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