I hate going to Internet cafes when I don’t have my own computer with me. Using a public computer is akin to using a public toilet in my book. You never know what you’ll find inside and who knows who’ll see what you leave behind. Google has taken a step to calm that fear today by adding a remote monitoring system to its web email program, Gmail.

A quick glance at the bottom of your Gmail page reveals if any other computer is logged into your Gmail account and also the last time there was activity on the account. To further help you pinpoint possible nefarious users it can tell you the IP addresses of individual logins to the account. An IP address is a number assigned to a computer when it logs on to the Internet.

A click of the “Details” link takes you to a page that can tell you how the last logins to your account took place. For example, maybe you access Gmail from your phone before going into work. This would show up on the detailed screen as “Mobile.”

Perhaps most importantly from a security standpoint, you can also click one button to sign out all other instances of Gmail that may be logged in currently at other locations. AOL does something similar to this with its AOL Instant Messaging (AIM) program, and I’ve used it more than a few times to log out of my account from a computer I’m no longer at.

All of this reminds me of that one scene from the film Clear and Present Danger in which Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is remotely accessing Bob Ritter’s (Henry Czerny, right) computer. Ryan stole Ritter’s password with the help of a code cracker, but Ritter is able to find him accessing his system when he logs in from his own computer. Now Gmail gives you the same power — minus the star power.

This feature will gradually roll out of users of the most recent version of Gmail over the next few days.



[photos: Paramount Pictures]