Last week, Google, with little fanfare, added a new feature to their user dashboard that collects a variety of tools and tips for users to control how they appear on the internet. The Me on the Web section, with its almost childishly simple title, is most definitely geared toward those who wish to disappear from the Web, or at least disappear those embarrassing photos or private cell phone numbers. It’s a deft move by Google that, while providing few new tools, showcases one of the few responses to internet security and identity concerns that put users at the helm of their own appearances.
Navigating to the new section is easy enough: sign into your Google account, go to Account Setting, Personal Settings, Dashboard, and voila, it’s the second section down. Most of what’s available is old news—they will prompt you to set up a Google profile or Google alerts for your search terms (i.e. your name), which is all well and good, but bundled with those tools now is a host of resources to help individuals remove unwanted content from Google searches.
Google manages the difficulty of online identity protection and personal reputation management with a great deal of clarity and caution, stating at almost every turn that they do not “own the Web,” going on to provide a list of tips to either prevent unwanted information from appearing or bumping it down search relevancies. They then offer a URL removal tool to clear any cached copies of that site once it has been updated.
The real story here is more symbolic—that there is finally a dedicated section where users can at least attempt to negate some of the overwhelmingly viral qualities of the internet. It comes on the heels of a recent series of high profile attacks and hacks, many to supposedly secure, proprietary networks, across a variety of businesses and institutions, as well as the development on the media side of social media protocols, directors, and departments, all of which function to rein in some of the information that is getting shared (or at least, lend some consistency to it).
Small moves like Google’s last week exemplifiy the steady movement toward a cultural or philosophical struggle on the internet between freedom and security that has yet to come to a well-defined head. Facebook’s growth has been explosive, even over the last year, but recent disappointments in user adoption have been raising small concerns that the company, or perhaps people’s penchant or willingness to exist en masse in online identities in general, is not as solvent as we once thought.
A lot of this remains to be seen, but one of the larger takeaway messages, as Google has exhibited, is that internet security should develop with the same focus as internet freedom has: on the user. A webmaster can firewall a site all he or she wants, have as many rotating verification codes, retinal scans, whatever—but so long as the internet remains as diverse as it does, the greatest security measures will have to lie with each individual, who should be provided the necessary tools to secure his or her identity, just as he or she has been provided the tools to expose it.