Google launches monthly user-activity feature

Posted at 10:02 PM, Mar 28, 2012

(CNN) — Weeks after a policy change that sparked privacy concerns, Google has rolled out a new feature that will give users a monthly update to help them keep track of their activity across Google’s multiple sites and tools.

It’s called Account Activity, and users can receive it via e-mail with a link to a password-protected personal page. The feature was announced Wednesday in a post on Google’s official blog.

“Every day, we aim to make technology so simple and intuitive that you stop thinking about it — we want Google to work so well it just blends into your life,” Andreas Tuerk, a product manager for Google, wrote in the post. “But sometimes it’s helpful to step back and take stock of what you’re doing online.”

The report is not automatic, meaning users will have to sign up to receive it.

Based on a sample report, information such as your number of Google searches, your most popular search topics and the number of e-mails sent and received will be included.

It also will show locations where your account was used and the devices that were used to sign into it, which Tuerk called an extra layer of security.

“Knowing more about your own account activity also can help you take steps to protect your Google Account,” he wrote. “For example, if you notice sign-ins from countries where you haven’t been or devices you’ve never owned, you can change your password immediately and sign up for the extra level of security provided by two-step verification.”

On March 1, Google instigated a new privacy policy in which it creates a single profile of each user based on their activity across all of its many products — from search to Gmail to mobile devices that run on Google’s Android operating system.

Privacy advocates, including some in Congress, fear that puts too much personal information in the company’s hands. But Google said it wouldn’t be collecting any new information — just collating what data it already had in a way that would be more clear and help create new products and features for its users.

Wednesday’s blog post from Google made no mention of the new privacy policy. But many tech observers were quick to make the connection, saying it looks like a way to make users more comfortable.

“If you’re confused about what Google does and doesn’t know about your online activity, take heart: Google is letting you in on the secret,” Network World writer Brad Reed wrote.

Others saw potential for another goal behind the rollout — reminding folks how ubiquitous the Web giant has become online.

“While the report is something of a data nerds’ dream, its timely arrival hints at another purpose,” wrote Sarah Perez of TechCrunch. “The new Account Activity report offers a way for users to see exactly what they’re doing on Google, and how much of their life involves the use of Google’s products.”

By Doug Gross