Our recently launched personal search feature is a good example of the cool things Google can do when we combine information across products. Our search box now gives you great answers not just from the web, but your personal stuff too. So if I search for restaurants in Munich, I might see Google+ posts or photos that people have shared with me, or that are in my albums. Today we can also do things like make it easy for you to read a memo from Google Docs right in your Gmail, or add someone from your Gmail contacts to a meeting in Google Calendar.
Search Plus Your World was already scary, but now Google seems to be taking Facebook-like steps to trick people into sharing more than they’re comfortable with.
Picture this scenario: I leave my laptop sitting out in my house. Because I use Gmail and Google Reader, I am always logged in. A guest (Friend? My mother-in-law? My boss? My [hypothetical] ex-husband?) wants to Google something and uses my laptop. They could easily see private information in the search results – pictures or documents I don’t want him or her to see. And that’s just in my own house – what if I use Gmail at a public computer and forget to log out?
It also seems clear that they’re trying to further reduce barriers to entry for Google+: Have a Google account? Then you’re basically already on Google+! Might as well start telling us even more about your life so we can better target you with advertisements and make even more money off you.
Let’s take a look at some reactions from around the web.
What Do People Think About Google’s Latest Move (in the Game Called Evil)?
Gawker says that “Google wants all your personal information, promises to use it for ‘cool things’”:
Effective March 1, the company will merge most of its over 70 separate privacy policies into one master policy.
"That's cool," you might think to yourself. "I hate clutter."
What this actually means for you is that any information you may have provided one Google service will now become integrated with all the other ones you use. And what that actually means for you is that Gmail may not know how often you search for videos of Death Drop Dance-Offs on Youtube yet, but it will soon. All the ads targeted to you on Google are about to get even more creepily specific.
Users cannot opt out of the privacy changes…
BBC News quotes several critics who say this last point is the biggest problem with the change – users cannot opt out:
“If it simplifies things then that is a positive, but it does appear to be a case of if you don't like it, you have to walk away from it. Google has become a way of life for some people. They can't do without it even if they don't like the direction it is going in," said [Andy] Kellett.
"Does this simplicity come at the expense of strong boundaries between Google products. Will details that users thought might be private on one be revealed in unexpected ways on another?" asked Peter Bradwell, a ORG campaigner.
Henry Blodget at Business Insider writes that Google “takes back all that ‘don’t be evil’ stuff” – pre-IPO, Larry Page was quoted as saying “Google would never put its content above content from elsewhere because that would be ‘a conflict of interest, analogous to taking money for search results.’" Of course, that’s exactly what Google is doing now, by crowding out more and more of the organic results with ads as well as its own services (such as flight information and Google+ profiles).
The irony of Google's new Microsoft-like attitude (use your monopoly to "link and lever" into other services) is that Google's new "personal" search results would be vastly improved if they included results from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, et al. But Google seems so intent on promoting Google+ that it seems willing to sacrifice the utility and quality of its personal SERPs to get Google+ off the ground.
Gizmodo also calls this an official end to the “don’t be evil” era:
Google announced today that it will begin tracking users universally across all its services—Gmail, Search, YouTube and more—and sharing data on user activity across all of them. So much for the Google we signed up for …
What this means for you is that data from the things you search for, the emails you send, the places you look up on Google Maps, the videos you watch in YouTube, the discussions you have on Google+ will all be collected in one place. It seems like it will particularly affect Android users, whose real-time location (if they are Latitude users), Google Wallet data and much more will be up for grabs.
The Naysayers: Some See No Evil Here
Of course, as much as tech geeks and journalists complain about online privacy issues, there will always be those who think the concerns are unfounded. Take this comment on Gawker:
Can I ask what kind of information you people are providing to websites that is so, so private?
Am I the only one not clicking the 'Why yes, I AM an escaped felon with a penchant for feasting on baby necks while having sex with a Bob Ross painting (and eating a cat)' button when I sign up for Facebook?
I just cannot understand the paranoia.
Or this one on Gizmodo:
I completely fail to see the problem here... Google is now sharing your data across all of it's own products, but *not* others'. If you already use multiple Google products, as I'm pretty certain almost everyone does, then why woud this bother you?
If indeed you are bothered, then only use Google Search, Maps, YouTube, Gmail in a private session/incognito window. If you don't know how to do THAT, then you're clearly not overly concerned about data privacy.
Or, more plainly:
What a load of sensationalist bullshit.
I always think comments of this type are short-sighted. It’s not about being caught for a felony. There are all kinds of situations where you wouldn’t necessarily want someone to see your private information, even if it’s not technically illegal or wrong. And the vast majority of people don’t take great pains to ensure that they’re using the web in “incognito” mode all the time. (And there's reason to question whether Chrome's "incognito" option really is.)
I know of at least one case where a group of people were sharing a Google account for a collaborative project, and one of the parties accidentally used Google while logged into that shared account – another party then checked the search history to find something, and saw a string of websites that the first party probably wouldn’t have wanted the others to see. And this was years ago, when Google’s various services weren’t as inextricably linked.
What can I say? I highly doubt that every guy on Gawker or Gizmodo being self-righteous about online privacy has never looked at porn on the web.
What do you think? Has Google stooped to a new low or is this just par for the internet course?
More Web Marketing Highlights
Tad Miller at Search Marketing Sage says that Search Plus Your World needs a quality rater and shares some examples of less-than-helpful search results pulling from personal connections.
AJ Kohn wrote up a comprehensive guide for Google+ SEO.
Unbounce calls out five awesome landing pages from the real world and explains how they could be even better.
Surely you’ve heard all the fuss about Pinterest, a new social site with huge link building potential? Socialnomics points out five brands that are using Pinterest to the fullest.
Who benefited from the Wikipedia SOPA blackout? Marketing Land reports on which sites won that traffic instead.
Have a great weekend!