If you listen to the growing chorus of online chatter about thecompany, Google s now-infamous Don t be evil slogan isbecoming increasingly inaccurate by the day. The company s most recent move–a sweeping change that consolidated most of its privacy policies under a singleumbrella–immediately drew umbrage from critics who felt thatGoogle was on its way to taking all the data it has collected fromits users through its dozens of services and building an exhaustivedossier on each of us that would be used mercilessly in efforts tosell us things. Google wants you to keep using Search, Docs, and Google+, so it strying to play nice, and last June Google introduced a servicedesigned to let you see, in part at least, what Google knows aboutyou with a single click. Called Google Takeout , the service is so simple that it is completely undocumented whenyou visit the site.
You sign in, and then see an offer to Download an archive of your data from a variety of services(outlined below), and that s it. You can grab it all in one click,or choose specific services from which to download, but unless yourusage of these services is exhaustive (think thousands of GoogleDocs or Picasa photos), the one-click approach is easiest. Getting It To Go Here s what Takeout currently offers: A list of URLs to all the +1s you ve handed out. Your Google Buzz history, presuming you have one. A list of contacts from your Circles in Google+.
A list of the contacts you have saved in Gmail. (These are keptseparate from your Circles contacts.) Copies of all the Google Docs you ve uploaded. Copies of any photos you ve uploaded to Picasa. (These may includephotos uploaded for use on a Blogger site, if you ve ever hadone.) Some basic information about the personal data you include in yourGoogle+ Profile Links to each entry you ve personally shared on your Google+Stream. (Other people s streams that show up in your feed are notincluded.) Your full Google Voice log, including a list of all attempted andcompleted calls and texts, MP3s of each voice mail, and Google stranscript of each message. Water Playground Equipment
Everything arrives in a single zipped file that you unpack,revealing a separate folder for each Google service. The formattingof this material can be inconsistent. Google Voice messages are saved as individual HTML and MP3 files, but your +1 bookmarksare amalgamated into a single file. Picasa photos are wellorganized into folders, but Google Docs are delivered en masseregardless of how you use Collections on the site. Aqua Park Equipment
Although Google has said that it will continue to addservices to Takeout, here s a (partial) list of what you don t get now with the Takeout system. Your Google Search history. Your Google Talk chat history. Google Wallet and Google Checkout details, including credit cardinformation and a history of purchases.
YouTube materials, including videos you liked, shared, or uploaded. Posts created with Blogger, or comments you ve left on Bloggersites. Google Calendar entries. Google Health data.
Bookmarks stored or synced with Chrome or the Google Toolbar. Google Latitude location information. Anything related to your Android phone, including your account oryour Android Market downloads. Anything involving Orkut, AdWords, Google Finance, and more.
That list surprised me, not just because it s so long, but alsobecause Google does retain data for most (if not all) of thoseservices. Your Google Search history can be accessed here , for example. Why doesn t Takeout let you download thisinformation instead of shipping you off to another site? If you want to get an offline copy of any of this information, yourbest bet is to check out the comprehensive list of how-tos at the Data Liberation Front , managed by the group of Google engineers that coded the GoogleTakeout service. Here you ll find detailed instructions on how tomanually get your data out of another two dozen Google-operatedservices not covered by Takeout. Liberation vs.
Deletion It s important to remember that with Google Takeout you aregetting a copy of the information stored on Google s servers, and are not removing the originals from Google s clutches . There s no way to delete anything at all via Google Takeout. If you want to delete information from Google , you ll need to visit each service you use and delete the data orthe account manually. In Blogger, for example, that means visitingthe blog administration tool and using the Delete blog link toremove it from the Web.
Where we can provide information access and correction, we will doso for free, except where it would require a disproportionateeffort. We aim to maintain our services in a manner that protectsinformation from accidental or malicious destruction. Because ofthis, after you delete information from our services, we may notimmediately delete residual copies from our active servers and maynot remove information from our backup systems. Those concerned with Google s ability to keep tabs on you may wantto pay special attention to a few of those clauses: Notably thatGoogle can reject requests to delete information that requiredisproportionate technical effort and, more importantly, thatbackup copies of your data are not likely to be deleted promptly,if ever.
Takeout: Still Too Limited So what does all of this really mean? To date, user commentary has been surprisingly muted about Takeout.Those who have written about it mainly seem thrilled to haveone-click access to their Google Voice records, their Google Docs,and their online contacts. In these respects, Takeout is actually auseful tool: Downloading this information piecemeal is a pain, andGoogle Takeout makes it considerably easier. Painless, even. But even at a year old, Takeout is still a long way from offeringusers a legitimate way to get a handle on how exhaustive theinformation Google has about them really is.
The number of servicesincluded in Takeout is paltry compared to the vast number ofofferings that Google has available, particularly given that thoseservices typically make this information available directly to theuser. If Google can figure out a way to consolidate its myriadprivacy policies, surely it can figure out a way to consolidate thedownloading of collected user information, too. As engineeringchallenges go, this doesn t seem like a toughie. Ultimately, Takeout is a good first step toward giving users moretransparency about what the company does with their data, but ifGoogle wants to prove it is serious about privacy, Takeout needs tobe radically expanded–and to imbue users with the ability todelete materials they don t want Google to be sitting on.