Google, Facebook give users added account controls

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2 Jul, 2010

Facebook's new app approval process delivers on the social network's privacy promises as Google extends suspicious log-in activity alert.

Google and Facebook have both introduced new measures aimed at bolstering security and providing their users with greater control over their personal details.

Google has extended Gmail's suspicious activity monitor across its entire range of services, while Facebook users can now see exactly what information third-party add-ons are asking for before agreeing to launch the app.

Google's suspicious activity monitor, already a feature in Gmail, has been extended across all its web services, and will now display a warning in red on the Dashboard if suspicious logins have been made to any of your Google accounts.

Login attempts are considered suspicious if they originate from outside the general geographic location of your normal IP address.

“If you log in using a remote IP address, our system will flag it for you,” Google product manager Yariv Adan revealed on the Google Public Policy blog. “So if you normally log into your account from your home in California and then a few hours later your account is logged in from France, you’ll get a notice at the top of your Dashboard page – alerting you to the change and providing links for more details.”

The feature is not designed to block users from their Google accounts, but to warn of unusual behaviour. A user who sees a warning can choose to dismiss it or to change their password on the spot. They can also view the specific IP addresses that have been used most recently to access the account.

The feature was introduced to Gmail users several months ago, mainly as a response to the infiltration of several high-profile individuals' email accounts through Google's Chinese servers late last year.

“Since this has been effective in helping people identify improper access, we decided to extend it to all our Google Account users, not just Gmail,” Adan added.

Google Dashboard users will also notice a new link at the bottom of the Dashboard page allowing them to report any issues with the new feature.

Facebook finally delivered on its pledge to give account holders more control over their data, unrolling a new system that requires third-party apps, websites and services to have explicit user permission before accessing users' personal details.

“With this new authorisation process, when you log into an application with your Facebook account, the application will only be able to access the public parts of your profile by default. To access the private sections of your profile, the application has to explicitly ask for your permission,” Facebook's chief technology officer (CTO) Bret Taylor revealed.

The previous system saw apps not having to disclose which personal information they were using, putting the burden of responsibility on the user to safeguard their details by labelling them as private.

After increasing pressure from privacy groups to address the matter and simplify Facebook's convoluted privacy controls, users will now be told the exact information each app is looking to access, and will be given the chance to accept the request or block the app.

“Today, we're taking the next step by providing more transparency and control over the information you share with third-party applications and websites,” Taylor added.