In conjunction with the 31st International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, which occurred this week in Madrid, Spain, both Google and Microsoft took steps to express their respective commitment to privacy.
Microsoft's announcement took the form of a policy paper that said the company's established privacy principles would apply to cloud computing and called for regulatory harmony around the globe.
Google introduced Google Dashboard, a Web page that provides a summary of the information Google users have stored online and a set of links for modifying data storage settings.
"In an effort to provide you with greater transparency and control over [your] own data, we've built the Google Dashboard," a Google blog post explains. "Designed to be simple and useful, the Dashboard summarizes data for each product that you use (when signed in to your account) and provides you direct links to control your personal settings."
The Dashboard provides data details for over 20 Google services, including Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Web History, Orkut, YouTube, Picasa, Talk, Reader, Alerts, Latitude, Profiles, and Voice, among others.
Nineteen Google services are not yet available on the Dashboard. These include Analytics, Checkout, AdSense, AdWords, Wave, App Engine, and Mobile, to name a few.
For a company that last year resisted adding a privacy link to its home page to prevent even the slightest page load time delay, the Dashboard demonstrates that privacy has become more of a priority.
Privacy advocates are calling the Dashboard a step in the right direction, though some are more critical than others.
For instance, John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog, suggested the Dashboard was mere window dressing. "If Google really wanted to give users control over their privacy it would give consumers the ability to be anonymous from the company and its advertisers in crucial areas such as search data and online behavior," he said in a statement.
It might also be said that if consumers really wanted privacy they'd stay off the Internet and off the grid, paying only in cash.