Monday, March 14, 2011

Google Social Circle is a social mistake and violates privacy

So I noticed the "Google Social Circle" today.
And I do not like it. Not one bit.

It displays direct connections between me and my friends. That is, when I am logged into my Google account, it offers an "easy" central page to view profiles of all friends who are on my address book (or Chat) - and view content they have shared publicly or with me (Twitter, Flickr, etc).

Problem is, it also shows a list of "Secondary Connections" who are publicly associated with my direct connections. You could argue that i can already visit a friend's Google Profile page and then view a list of their publicly associated contacts on Buzz. Or that Twitter/Buzz/Flickr/FaceBook/WordPress/BlogSpot/their-own-domain are already on the public internet and you could track them down if you wanted to. But in practice, I doubt anyone other than contact harvestors and stalkers could have the conscience to do that.

As it stands, the Social Circle can strike out from just 64 contacts and show up 2510 secondary contacts. Short of email id itself, all the above and more are shown up. And shown up with a tracking line that shows which direct contact is a common friend. It is a lot like seeing a person's list of contacts right up front, with no effort at all.

That is scary, uncomfortable, and invasive of privacy. The least Google could have done (in the wake of the Google Buzz privacy fiasco) is to offer people a choice of whether they want to be shown up in such a list, and a choice of whether their "secondary connections" will be exposed on such lists. You can easily imagine sites/apps to pop up that make use of such a facility (or otherwise convert the HTML in some form into a usable API) and get users to sign in with their Google Account for access - Voila, instant personalized and demographic information!

Unlike FaceBook, where you add a friend knowing fully well that all your other friends can see the new addition, GMail contact lists are implicitly private. I explicitly signed on to FaceBook for social networking, and I explicitly knew that is not what I wanted my Gmail account to do - THAT is the CENTRAL DIFFERENCE. Chat/Buzz contacts may be visible to world but still some effort is required to scrape them, as against listing them ALL right up there. You could, at the least, opt out of Buzz, but with dependance on Google's services, how likely are you to shutdown your Google account in protest of this kind of a move by Google?

So yeah, bad BAD move, really evil, and leaving users feeling naked, is my opinion of Google Social Circle. Just leave me alone, give me back my privacy. In the future, take my permission before assuming it, even if you've been "graciously" offering me free services all along.


  1. I ditto your thoughts. I felt the same way with it. Why don't all these services make them opt-in instead of opt-out?(provided such an option is even offered). Really impractical or rather impossible to shutdown my google account as so much is linked to it.
    Great post. Crisp and neat.
    Keep 'em coming. Expecting more frequent posting from you :)

  2. ah well... the link you are pointing to is not new. it was i believe launched with buzz.

    of course, all the information is public in nature and the connections can be removed by the users.

    of course, it is a headache for anyone who does not know about such connections.

    but the fact remains... most of these connections are related to pretty public services like personal blogs, twitter profiles and in some cases manually connected websites.

    it is still better than facebook i would say because facebook tends to have a lot more of personal information compared to let's say a blog or a twitter account. twitter for example does not even reveal email address if you connect to it through oauth. facebook reveals the email address.

    google needs social element to make its own services better and competitive. in search and on other places.

    sadly, the only weak link here is the user. if they want their data to be private, it is on to them to make it private.


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