New Google Tab Surfaces Personal Data in Search Results

3 minute read
David Roe avatar

Holiday weekends aren't normally a time when vendors upgrade or release new products. However, this Memorial Day weekend, Google made an exception. It added a new Personal Tab to its search engine to help users find personal information more effectively.

Reports of the tab started surfacing on Friday, with reports of new search results which show content from an individual's Gmail account, Google Photos library and calendar.

Get Personal with Search Results

Unlike the regular Google search, which provides users a list of links related to the search term, these results come directly from your Google accounts. According to reports, personal ads may also appear in these results.

The tab can be found under the ‘More’ option on the search page and surfaces everything related to a keyword in email messages, calendar events and photos. It works on both desktop and mobile for those with access. The results come with the reassurance that "Only you can see these results."

In spite of the reassurance, there's an obvious problem here: and one that could deepen the controversy over vendor's use of personal data to create personalized advertising.

Google Moves Once Again Raise Privacy Questions

However, given that Mountain View, Calif.-based-Google admitted a long time ago its practice of machine-scanning data found in a person’s email to develop personalized advertising, it is likely it will also use the data and search terms provided through the ‘Personal’ tab to do the same.

Some might argue this existing data access makes any concerns about privacy too little, too late. That said, Google search engine can’t prioritize all the information in your personal account — unless, of course, you start feeding search terms into the engine.

This isn't all that Google has been up to recently that could land it in trouble with data and privacy regulators, especially in Europe.

At the recent I/O conference Google spent a good deal of time promoting and discussing its new Lens service.

Learning Opportunities

Lens isn’t availed to consumers yet, but it will land soon — maybe even too soon for those concerned about privacy.

Len uses machine learning to identify real-world objects using the camera of a telephone. It then places the object in context, identifies its location and surfaces content directly related to the object.

Google is already under scrutiny by the European Union over changes it made to its privacy policy last year which claimed users’ activities on other sites “may be associated with your personal information.”

This effectively allowed Google to combine users’ browsing data from third-party websites with the individuals’ Google search and email data.

While Google gives existing users the option to opt-in or out, it indicates Google and other large vendors with access to personal information are looking for ways to turn that data into revenues.

Google is rolling out the new tab slowly. It doesn’t appear to be available in Europe yet — and doesn’t currently integrate with other Google offerings such as Google Drive, but that could change in the future. 

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