A couple of evenings ago, during a discussion of Google issues on the national radio venue where I frequently guest, I urged listeners to visit Google’s excellent “My Activity” feature (https://google.com/myactivity).
I’m used to getting “Now I understand, why didn’t anybody ever explain this to me that way before?” emails after my Google discussions, but the response to my mentioning My Activity was very strong and somewhat different, more like “Wow, this is great. Why the hell does Google hide this feature?”
Google doesn’t actually hide it, but the number of persons noting that they’d never before heard of My Activity got me thinking.
In fact, it’s not just radio audiences who seem to be largely unaware of MA, but it’s interesting how many highly technical, long-term Google users have expressed surprise when I’ve mentioned it to them — they were unaware of it also.
And this is really a shame, because MA is a fantastic tool, providing world-class access and control to users for their data on Google, in a comprehensive form that puts most other Internet firms to shame.
I’ve discussed MA in some detail previously, e.g.:
The Google Page That Google Haters Don’t Want You to Know About – https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/04/20/the-google-page-that-google-haters-dont-want-you-to-know-about
Quick Tutorial: Deleting Your Data Using Google’s “My Activity” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/04/24/quick-tutorial-deleting-your-data-using-googles-my-activity
Yet this still begs the question. While references to MA show up in various Google services and help pages, there’s no evidence that I know of to suggest that Google ever has deployed a serious continuing “outreach” to the public in general to make them aware of MA — and so it appears that most people still don’t even realize that such an important feature exists — a feature, I might add, that directly retorts the false propaganda of Google Haters.
And therein may be the clue to this mystery.
Google seems to have — perhaps since its earliest days — a deeply ingrained institutional fear of “Streisand Effect” blowbacks. Google seems to often believe that even having utterly false, fake, damaging propaganda about Google being widely circulated is somehow less of a risk than being upfront and direct about complex issues, even though Google is entirely on the side of the angels in those issues.
Here’s my guess. I suspect that Google is concerned that too much attention to the comprehensive nature of MA would cause too many users to become concerned regarding the scope of user data being presented, even though MA provides users with the ability not only to view and delete that data as they wish, but also to indicate their ongoing Google data collection preferences.
Google may be concerned that users will be “creeped out” by seeing their search and other activity histories in detail, even though those users are being given complete control over that data in the process.
Obviously I don’t know that these are actually Google’s concerns regarding MA. But to the extent that they might be, I would consider such concerns to be misguided at best, and not beneficial to Google or its users.
I base this largely on the sorts of experiences I noted above. When I “reveal” MA to people — techies and non-techies alike — the response I get is almost always the same — enthusiastic approval.
And I think that the reason for this is fairly obvious. Most Internet users already assume that a lot of data is being collected from them in the course of providing the services that they depend upon. That horse is long since out of the barn.
The key question now is the degree of control that firms provide users over that data — and this is where Google’s My Activity shines so very brightly as a tremendously user-positive feature.
But yes, people need to know about it before they can use it!
All else being equal, one might assume Google preferring that users delete as little of their data as possible. The more data Google has, the better they can customize services, train machine learning algorithms, and perform other functions that benefit both Google and its users.
But I would argue that overall, the benefits all around of widespread awareness and use of My Activity far outweigh any perceived negatives, and that, frankly, Google should be out there promoting its availability widely — not depending on third parties like me to sing its praises publicly.
Google will be 20 years old next year. It’s time for Google to outgrow its youthful fears of Streisand attacks around so many corners. Googlers do great work and Google is a great company. Google should fully embrace the ability of the public to appreciate what Google does, rather than so often treating the public as something to be somehow feared.