Monday, April 4, 2011

Don't Give Up On Google And Social Network Privacy

As social network users, we have all gotten used to accepting less privacy is a necessary evil for social networking sites. When you sign up for new social network service, checking off that terms of use agreement checkbox means that 'yes, I trust you to do the right thing when it comes to sharing my information.' And social networking sites usually take this to mean whatever it makes sense for them. Especially when they are introducing new feature, they would like to interpret it to mean, 'surely you must want to use our new service since you haven't deleted your account'.

Google Is Vowing Not To Repeat Buzz's Mistakes,
And It Shows How Google Has Designed/Launched '+1';
Note The 'Publicly' and 'Undo'.
Well, that was yesterday's interpretation. No more bending privacy rule to bootstrap the newly launched service. Thanks to Federal Trade Commission and Google's bungled attempt to launch Buzz by automatically signing up all Gmail users, now all social network sites will think twice before stretching privacy rule and deciding the default options.

The other day FTC made its first ruling against floundering social networking site, Google Buzz, to enforce third party privacy audit every two years for next 20 years.

What's interesting is that FTC's complaint includes finer points on how not to design interface. 8 pager FTC complaint points out that "the controls that would allow the user to change the defaults were confusing and difficult". No more deceptive tactics like making default option to share more, and burying privacy setting link in layers of pages.

We are already seeing some signs of Google taking this lesson to the forefront of their Google +1 design (Google's interpretation of Facebook's Like "thumbs-up" button). Here's what Google is doing differently with +1.

1. Silent launch

Chances are you have not heard of Google +1. That's not too surprising. Google has not made a big launch of its new social search enhancement. They are decidedly underplaying its significance and released it as experimental feature, which is opt-in only service for now. Compare this with big splash Google made with Buzz.

2. Clear user feedback that everything is shared by default

Google is providing clear feedback to user that any link user endorses are shared with everyone else. Whenever user clicks '+1' button, Google displays this privacy setting for you.

Google Is Hiding '+1' Tab From Public View By Default;
It Looks Like Google Learned The Lesson From Buzz
3. '+1' tab is not shown to everyone by default

Once you opt in to try Google +1, you will start seeing '+1' tab showing up on your Google profile page. And it's not shown to everyone else by default. This default value is clearly shown to the user when user opens the '+1' tab.

So don't give up on Google and their social search. This time around, it looks like you'll also get better privacy control with help of FTC. That will certainly be welcome news to all users.

What do you think? What do you think of FTC's complaint? Have they gone far enough, and do you think Google's taking enough action? Let us know.

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