Don't look now, but Google has just unleashed another tool to allegedly help you manage the scoodles of information the search giant has collected about you. It's called "Me on the Web," and Google's Public Policy Blog describes it thusly:
Today we’ve released a new tool to help make it easier to monitor your identity on the web and to provide easy access to resources describing ways to control what information is on the web. This tool, Me on the Web, appears as a section of the Google Dashboard right beneath the Account details.
Sounds good, right? Alas, Me on the Web is really just a bunch of old services and FAQs cobbled together and repackaged under a catchy name. It doesn't have much to do with enhancing your privacy, but it does have a lot to do with Google's deep desire to out-Facebook Facebook.
[img_assist|nid=174957|title=Google: Me on the Web|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=595|height=354]
First, in order to use Me on the Web you have to have a) a Google account, which means signing up for a Gmail address, and 2) a Google Profile. Google Profiles are not about being more private, they're about managing the information other people can gather about you by, essentially, providing more of it.
[ See also: Google wants to be your wallet. ]
A Google Profile will snarf up as much personal data as you're willing to cough up -- photos, jobs, schools, places you've lived, relationship status, things you want to brag about, nicknames, identifying scars and tattoos, etc -- all of which is visible to Google search by default. It also can link to all your social profiles, blogs, and so on, if you so desire. (Does that sound just a bit like Facebook? It’s no coincidence.)
In theory, the more info you put in your profile, the more likely it will show up higher when people search for you. That means they’re more likely to see the stuff you want them to see and not necessarily the stuff you don’t want them to see (like those photos of you going wild in Cabo).
You can of course make your profile invisible to Google Search, thus rendering it almost entirely pointless -- unless the only reason you want a profile is so you can use Me on the Web. Frankly I’m not sure that’s worth it.
Me on the Web does offer one cool new tool: a quick-n-easy way to set up Google Alerts, so you can get notified whenever your name or email addresses appear online. This sounds good in theory, but in practice Google Alerts are often than less meets the email.
Being an egomaniac, I already have Google Alerts set up for my name, my Web sites, my pseudonyms, and various other items. Given how frequently I publish stuff and how often it gets syndicated, republished, or flat out stolen, I should be swimming in alerts. But I'm not. What Google Alerts actually alerts me to seems entirely random. I probably get one alert for every ten bylines, tweets, or links with my name in them.
[img_assist|nid=174955|title=Google Alerts are not always what they seem.|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=596|height=393]
Another complaint: As you're setting up an alert, you can click "View results" and Google will display a search page with your spiffy new profile at the tippy tippy top. Impressive, right? But that only happens when you're logged in, and it only displays the profile in that slot to you. If you run the same search from an incognito page (in Chrome) or a private browsing session (in Firefox), your profile may show up much lower in search results, if it shows up at all. So much for managing the information people have about you.
The other parts of Me on the Web involve links to old FAQs about how to remove mentions of you from Google's search results. Those rules haven't changed a bit. If you want something removed from Google results, you have to first get it taken off the Web, and then removed from Google's cache. That means going to the Webmaster where the material was originally published and asking/pleading/threatening them until they take it down. It may also mean going to any other sites that also published this stuff and doing the same. It can be a tedious, frustrating, seemingly endless process (and here's where I put in the usual plug for Reputation.com, which will do this for you for a fee.)
The cynic inside me wonders whether Me on the Web is really just another attempt to promote Google Profiles, using privacy as a hook. What do you think?
[UPDATE: After this post was published I was contacted by a Google spokesperson, who pointed out a couple of errors here. One: While you do need to a Google account to use Me on the Web, it doesn't require a Gmail address -- any email address will work. Two: You don't have to create a Google Profile either, though without it Me on the Web is really just Google Alerts + some FAQs. TY4NS regrets the errors.]