One of the most appealing aspects of Google+ for many users is privacy. Many feel Facebook has been too cavalier when it comes to sharing personal information, and that Google is a better steward of sensitive data. For today's 30 Days With Google+ entry, I am taking a closer look at some of the privacy aspects of Google+.
The Circles concept that is at the core of Google+ is intended to help users maintain more control over privacy. Each time I post something on Google+, I have to select which Circles to share the information with, so I can choose on a post by post basis whether to share with all of my Circles, or restrict the post to a specific Circle or Circles.
On Day 4 I explained: "For example, explaining that I won't be going in to work Monday can have very different meanings depending on the Circle. I might want to let my "co-workers" Circle know that I'm not feeling very well and won't make it in, and then let my "friends" Circle know that I'll meet them at the beach, and I'm bringing the beer."
There is a potential problem, though, where the Circles overlap and interconnect. What happens if I have a friend who also has one of my co-workers in a Circle, and my friend chooses to share the post--maybe to make some comment about what kind of beer I should bring? If my friend is not careful, he could end up cross-posting my beach party plans to my co-worker who thinks I am home sick. That could get sticky.
There are two things that will help minimize or eliminate this risk. The first is that when my friend goes to share the post that I sent only to my "friends" Circle, he will get a pop-up message reminding him that I posted to a limited audience and to exercise some discretion in who that information is subsequently shared with.
That might help, but it won't prevent the friend from dismissing the message and sharing it anyway. The good news is that I can block my post from being shared. At the upper right of each post is a little arrow. I can click it, and then select "Disable Reshare" from the dropdown menu.
My only issue with this is that Google+ only lets me disable resharing after the fact. If my friend is online and acts quick, he may have already shared the post before I click on the arrow and disable resharing. Google+ should provide some way for me to mark a post with reshare disabled before I post it my Circle(s) in the first place.
Another area where I have an issue with privacy in Google+ is with the games. As I pointed out on Day 14, when I try to play games I first have to grant the game and its developers permission to access different aspects of my Google+ account. I don't understand why a game developer needs to know anything about anyone in my Circles or how often I communicate with them in order for me to play some mindless game online for a few minutes (or hours).
I chose not to grant those permissions, and just not play the game. But, my information and my privacy are still at risk if someone else who has me in their Circles decides to grant those permissions. As ridiculous as I think it is for a game developer to need to know anything about me in order for me to play a game, it is borderline criminal for a game developer to dig into my social network activity without my consent just so my friend can play a game.
Then there are the sweeping permissions granted to Google just by accepting the terms of service for participating on Google+. The ToS states:
"By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.
You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services."
I'm not a lawyer. I give Google some benefit of the doubt and assume that its intent for co-opting and redistributing my content is not as nefarious as the ToS makes it sound. But, from what I can tell, the permissions I am granting by agreeing to these statements is broad enough that Google could, in fact, do some insidious things with my content. Basically, I am taking Google at its word and putting faith in the "do no evil" mantra.
I understand that people are enamored with the simplicity of choosing which Circles to share posts with. I agree that it has merits, but it is not without its own issues, and I don't agree that Google has shown itself to have any greater respect for my privacy than Facebook. It seems like a case of "six of one, half a dozen of the other" to me, and you just have to pick your poison.