A little more than a week ago, Google launched its new social service called Google+. We released our initial reaction to Google+ last week, however this week we wanted to address the increasing discussion on privacy issues surrounding Google+. There’s many people taking positions on both sides of the debate- some saying that Google+ gives more control and is the better alternative to Facebook and others criticizing Google for deceiving users into a false sense of privacy. Here’s where we stand:
Google flaunts its new service as a way for users to share different things with different people, “Giving you more ways to stay private or go public.” Usually, we would agree with such a philosophy, but instead of building a platform to reinforce this, the Google+ team says one thing and does another.
The Reshare Button – Taking away your choice
The infamous Reshare button is one of the first Google+ privacy controversies. Some originally thought this was some sort of privacy loophole, and others saw it as harmless- comparing it to copy/pasting or forwarding an email; however both of these statements completely miss the point. If Google+ was truly a social network that respected your choices concerning who to share with, why create a button that lets anyone betray that choice? After the outcry that followed, Google claimed they were working on a fix. After a day or so, their fix was pushed out to the masses, see below:
Their fix? A warning. The Reshare button obviously isn’t a bug Google is keeping the feature in. This means that it was put there on purpose to share content with anyone, thus proving that Google cares little for their users’ privacy and only use the illusion of choice to get users to sign up and share comfortably.
No control over your own image
Many, if not all of the main features in Google+ are public by default, instead of private. In fact in keeping with this trend Google announced last week that it will be deleting all private Google profiles by the end of the month. This trend towards public by default in Google+ is worrisome, especially since certain features allow others to control your image almost as much as you can.
Just like on Facebook, Google+ has a photo tagging feature. So just like Facebook, anyone can upload a photo of you, tag you in the photo and share it publicly. Here, your photo appears on their public profile with your name next to it, as well as in your photo section. The tag remains there until you decide to remove it, however with the Reshare button, by the time you get to the photo to untag yourself, the damage might already be done.
Just like Facebook, Google+ is taking an ‘opt out’ approach to your privacy. While Google wants people to believe they are a private and safe alternative to Facebook, they are merely commodifying privacy in order to gain traction with those concerned with this issue.
It’s easy to see beyond circles
Google+ has been advertised as a way of safely and discretely sharing with certain groups of people. Google ensures users that their contacts won’t be able to see which Circles they are in. However, after looking at Google+, it’s obvious how visible your circles really are.
First, anyone with access to a limited post can easily see who else you have shared it with. After clicking on the ‘limited’ tag next to your post, they can see the names and profiles of those also seeing the same post. From here on out, the circles basically populate and label themselves. Here’s an example:
1. Here, anyone seeing my post is able to tell I shared this post with 4 people who all share my last name. They’ll immediately be able to tell that I have a family Circle that looks like this:
2: Now as soon as this person sees another post I have shared with my family AND others, the second circle will immediately be obvious as well:
This reveals severe flaws in the Google+ platform. It does not matter what Google tells users, If you can see who the post is shared with, you can see the ‘label’- because the people in each circle are what define the label.
Google+ for businesses – Your own data used against you
Google has already announced that they have big plans on Google+ for businesses and brands. In a post last week they sent a message to businesses detailing some of their plans, mentioning adwords, analytics and the ability to communicate with users through circles.
For a while now Google has been using user data from Gmail and search for advertising purposes, that is no secret. In fact, Google made approximately 28.2 BILLION dollars on advertising revenue in 2010 alone.
With businesses soon coming to Google+, it will be interesting to see what direction Google will go with the information users share with their circles, and how this will be integrated with businesses on their platform. However if the past is any indication, it looks like Google+ will be nothing more than one more source of data for advertisers and businesses to more accurately target consumers, using their own information.
Google+: Using Privacy as a Gimmick
As we’ve seen above, the way Google is marketing Google+ doesn’t seem to be reflected in the actual service. Google claims that their platform allows for more control over who sees what but by default Google+ shows the following:
- Choices are taken out of your hands
- You have little control of your own image
- It’s easy to see through circles
- Your own data is used against you
That being said, one has to ask themselves whether Google is using privacy and control as a gimmicky selling point or if they truly believe in this system. Our answer? If Google truly cared about your privacy, they would build a system that would reflect and support these kinds of functionalities. Instead they built Google+, where most everything is public by default and contradicts what the message they tell their users.
Taking the above into account as well as Google’s plans for businesses and advertising, the only takeaway is that Google+ is a platform where privacy and control take a back seat to information gathering and advertising.
GigaOM – It’s all about the data
Mashable – Google Accelerates Google+ for Business Test Program
Financial Times – The first Google+ privacy flaw