5 Reasons Google+ Is A Privacy Accident (Disaster?) Waiting to Happen

1. You think it has better privacy controls

This is number one, hands down, the biggest reason its a problem waiting to happen. The pure enthusiasm for a new product and your belief that you are “safer” will lead to you to share more believing that you have better control.

2. It’s still in Beta. 

Beta means beta, which means there are bugs that haven’t been worked out. It also means that this isn’t the finished product, things could change.

3. The follow vs friend vs circle confusion.

Anyone can “follow” you by adding you to a circle even if you don’t reciprocate.  This is weird hybrid of Twitter & Facebook. We already know people don’t understand complicated privacy settings.

Twitter: your account is either public or private and you know which one it is.  Yes it’s possible on Twitter to repost a tweet from a private account.

Facebook: you must request a reciprocal agreement of friendship. If I deny that request you can’t follow me.The default settings for posts and status updates is “friends only”. So let’s say I intend to post my “party friends” but inadvertently post to all. Eek! Yep that’s bad, but it still only goes to the people I’ve allowed to be my friend. Let’s say even worse, I don’t notice that I’ve shared that post with all of my friends, its still not indexable by Google or other search engines. Facebook does make it easy to share (repost) photos and other links posted to the wall but not status updates.

Google+: there is no approval process so anyone can follow me without my approval, similar to a public Twitter account. But Google+ stresses the privacy aspect and many people are comparing it to Facebook, so people will use it like Facebook. Now let’s say I make an error there and while intending to post to my “party friends” only I accidentally post to the default setting which is “public” eek! Now the whole world can see it, and if I don’t notice and correct the issues it IS indexable by Google. Google+ allows people (repost) share your photos, your links and your status updates.

Plus anyone a post is shared with can share that post.

Remember that anyone a post is shared with can see all comments to that post, who else it’s shared with, and share the post with others.

3. Google isn’t up front about how they are using and storing your information.

I talked about this when I wrote  Google’s Social Circle & Social Search May Not Violate Any Privacy Laws But It Gives Me The Creeps. Google states they were basing my Social Circle and Social Search on my Google Profile, except I didn’t have one and the instructions they gave to change settings & content did not work.

And I’m not the only with concerns about what Google says versus what Google does

“[Google] made fairly significant verbal assurances that they would improve their behavior but apparently that’s all they did,” Barton said. “They really didn’t change their business model and it appears to me Google had adopted a model of saying one thing in Washington and doing another in their business practices.”

4. Google+ For Mobile –  which according to the site allows for:

Instant Upload for Android. Upload every video and picture to your own private album in the cloud. From there, just edit and share them with whoever you want.

Which is awesome until there is a glitch in the system and all of your photos go public for 15 minutes and everyone can see those phones you took for sexting with your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/stranger-you-met-on-a-plane which were automatically uploaded thanks to Google+ for Mobile, but you didn’t bother to delete because A) You forgot it did that or B) they are private anyway.

5. You’re putting all of your eggs in one basket 

There is a reason for that old saying about not putting all of your eggs in one basket. I don’t think Facebook is better or worse than Google, I don’t think they have better motives or privacy or are using my data in better ways. But I KNOW both Google and Facebook are using my data and for right now I think its best to put that data in as many separate baskets as possible.

Let me be clear I’m not saying Facebook or Twitter (or Friendfeed?) is better than Google+, I’m just saying Google+ isn’t better than any of them, especially for the Average Joe (which is probably not you if you’re reading this blog btw)

PS: Dear Google, I love you, please don’t take away my Gmail, or Google Reader, or Docs, or my Android phone. Love Bobbi

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22 comments for “5 Reasons Google+ Is A Privacy Accident (Disaster?) Waiting to Happen

  1. July 22, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Any beta program should be looked at with skepticism and used with caution. However, I think that the concern over #3 (circle confusion) isn’t a new concern. It harks back to even the earliest days of email — the difference between “reply” and “reply all.” It still happens today. Who hasn’t accidentally emailed something to everyone when you thought it was going to just one person? True, I think G+ could do a better job of explaining how circles work. But I don’t think the fact that someone might accidentally post something “Public” when they meant for it to go to a particular group is something unique to G+.

    • July 24, 2011 at 8:42 am

      I agree its not and I’m not saying it is.

  2. Annette
    July 22, 2011 at 8:16 am

    I have literattly started using Google+ in the past hour and as someone who takes a while to find their wway around these things, my initial impressions are positive. What does slightly concern me though is the Google+ for mobile app. It says you are able to alter the instant upload through ‘settings’.

    Where is settings?

    I think it’s useful to try out things whilst they are still in Beta but it does require a certain level of confidence; without making mistakes things cannot be improved.

  3. July 22, 2011 at 8:18 am

    Is it a digital literacy statement that when I think “average user” I now think of my 67 year old mother (and her love of FB games)? Who, awesome in many ways, is often very confused about privacy, FB settings, and more. Accidents happen to anyone, but educating ourselves and understanding how to use social media tools correctly and safely, that is our mission. Great points. You always give me lots to ponder.

    PS: I love Google too!

  4. Cisop Sixpence
    July 22, 2011 at 8:19 am

    The way to protect your privacy is to realize that ‘anything’ you give them could be used against you if you make it available to them. So, if you don’t want that information out there, don’t put it out there, as the only way to really keep a secret it to not tell anyone. Even if Google had the best privacy settings, there is most likely an intern or hacker that will be blamed when a database with all of the information we provided turns up on the open internet. The best privacy control is ourselves.

  5. July 22, 2011 at 8:33 am

    I don’t plan to put anything more private on G+ than I do on FB/Twitter, but the difference for me is that I do finally believe that I can control what I share more effectively. For example, FB – I’ve been on there since 2006 (undergrad), I’ve continued to add various friend groups over the years, including high school friends and people from my small hometown (I know I could just decline the friend request, but small town politics…). Even though I’ve put some of them in a group called “Privacy settings,” where they supposedly can’t see my wall, my mom (who is in this group) has told me she can see comments I’ve written on other people’s profiles, who she is not even close to friends with. WTF? I’m so over FB and their fake privacy settings – at least with Twitter, I’m public and I know everything I’m posting is public – and FB was meant to be for close friends but has evolved far beyond that. G+ is a place to start over, and so far the circles have done exactly what I wanted them to. But again, I know I’ll never post anything close to scandalous because I don’t trust any of the social networks implicitly.

    • July 26, 2011 at 10:03 pm

      Whether your mom can see those status quotes has to do with those other people’s privacy settings, and whether their stuff is visible to your mom. If their status visibility is set to something like “friends of friends”, “friends and networks”, or “everybody”, then it’s actually *supposed* to be visible to your mom. (Of course your friends may not have meant it to be or realize that it is, Facebook usability being what it is.)

      In other words, it’s a great example of computers behaving exactly how we tell them to, and not necessarily how we expect.

  6. Lars
    July 22, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I think your arguments are off the point. Most being generic in nature, others not pin-pointing issues that Twitter and Facebook are without.

    Basically, I disagree.

  7. Ugh
    July 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    I really hate that they won’t let me have a Google+ account without making a public Google Profile. I use this account for making edits and reviewing businesses on Google Maps, posting in Google Groups, making comments on Blogger, sharing things on Google Reader, submitting bugs to Google Code, etc. etc.

    I do NOT want all these activities tied to my real name and face. Is that so hard to understand, Google?

    • July 24, 2011 at 8:43 am

      Great point! As someone with several gmail accounts I’m not interested in creating a profile or tying them all to my full name.

  8. Ben
    July 23, 2011 at 7:23 am

    Regarding your point #3 on public default, this is quoted directly from the Google+ Settings page:

    Sharing defaults
    Every time that you post content, you specify the circles and individuals that you want to share it with. For convenience, new posts default to the last set of people that you shared a post with but you can change that before you post.

  9. Jon
    July 24, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    1. “You think it has better privacy controls.” I do think that, yes. When I first created my G+ profile I took the time to look through the privacy measures and found them to be far superior to facebook’s (which I assume is your point of comparison), not least because they were much easier to find and use. And I don’t want to sound insulting, but I have to say that the second part of that point seems tenuous at best. I “think” I’m safer so I’ll automatically start sharing more? There’s a leap in logic there.

    2. Many Google projects retain the beta tag for years before becoming “officially” released. GMail was in beta for five years, it’s just their nature to use that tag. As for it not being the finished article, what on the Internet is? If we take facebook as a comparison, how much has that changed since launch? How much has it changed in just the last year? The internet evolves and changes all the time.

    3. You are right that anyone can “follow” you without your approval, but they will only have access to posts and information that you choose to be available to the public. The settings for this are easily changeable from your profile page without having to search through any hard-to-find settings menus, and anything on your profile can be customised to display to whoever you want. It would take a matter of minutes to set all your details to the private setting that would only allow you to view them. Alternatively, you can just leave the fields blank, it’s all optional. Further, it is easy enough to block people from viewing your profile or posts, and there is the option to prevent people from re-sharing your posts, although I will admit that this could be made clearer and easier to find.

    3. (4?) I haven’t even seen this Social Search feature, so I wouldn’t comment.

    4. Instant Upload is an option. One that is easily turned off in the mobile app’s settings. It may have its uses to some people, but I’m not a fan so I turned it off. Although it doesn’t even work with my phone, but apparently that’s because I use a non-stock camera app. And yes, it would be bad if there was a glitch that caused the private photos to go public, but that’s speculation.

    5. I have to say, I don’t really understand your argument here. The title of the article is about why Google+ is a privacy disaster waiting to happen, but I don’t see how this particular idiom is relevant. And how would having your data “in as many baskets as possible” be a better alternative? Wouldn’t that just increase the chances of your personal data becoming compromised as it relies on more companies doing a good job of protecting it, rather than just one?

    Bit of a lengthy response, there, but I really felt like I had to address some of the points raised.

  10. July 25, 2011 at 8:09 am

    that’s why I prefer twitter; less chance of screwing up. no photo tagging, no revealing everything to friends of friends of friends, no corporate spying disguised as games/polls… I’ll create lives at the other socials, but I won’t actually live there. but yes, I have posted to the wrong (identity) twitter account from my phone at least once.

  11. July 25, 2011 at 10:07 am

    I haven’t really tried out Google+ yet and I don’t really have many privacy concerns to start with, but what you mention in your first point 3 (friend vs follow vs circle) makes me a bit wary.

  12. Jonathan
    July 25, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Hi, I work on the Google+ project and just wanted to clarify that the default posting setting for Google+ is NOT public. The first time you post on Google+, the recipient line is blank, forcing you to choose who you want to see the information you’re posting. For subsequent shares, it defaults to whomever you shared to last.

    Hope that helps!

  13. Uhhh
    July 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    But the default setting out of the gate is “Public”, and if you try to change it to Custom, the first “custom” suggestion it makes is also “Public”. You have to remove the “Public” suggestion before making a normal post.

    • July 25, 2011 at 2:59 pm

      Maybe it’s changed since I started a couple of weeks ago, but for my first post, all I had to do was choose another circle and remove Public.

  14. July 28, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    It does seem that Google+ is a timebomb regarding privacy. I have only reluctantly used it to test out the new features. I love the hangout ideas for group video, especially from an academic perspective for collaboration, but the circle thing makes me *very* uncomfortable. Who are all these people I don’t know putting me into circles? I don’t want to post too many personal things as a result of that, and look to it more like Twitter as a professional/academic tool. I’m not abandoning Facebook just yet….

  15. August 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    WOW…great points! I think because I was so burned by that slutty FaceBook I’m trying really hard to realize that being transparent is the way to go & not share (or say) anything I wouldn’t want anyone to see. Easier said than done!
    But I’m keepin an eye on this I am…glad I’m not alone – your awesomely smart readers have mad skillz & great ideas!
    In the meantime, I’m not gonna use the G+ droid feature, and I’m blocking anyone who adds me & looks like they don’t have anything to do with education, libraries, or geekdom.
    ~Gwyneth
    The Daring Librarian

  16. August 15, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    “let’s say I intend to post my “party friends” but inadvertently post to all. Eek! Yep that’s bad, but it still only goes to the people I’ve allowed to be my friend. Let’s say even worse, I don’t notice that I’ve shared that post with all of my friends, its still not indexable by Google or other search engines.”

    Simple fix – Do not be an idiot. Check your posts before posting, than double check your post before posting, hell, if your information is THAT secretive you may want to TRIPLE check your post before posting. Stop complaining – Google+ is free. If you do not like the privacy settings and believe your “privacy” is not being protected – than simply do not sign up for a free Google+ account.

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