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Google takes some heat over Google+

It seems like we can’t make it through a week in January without Google sparking controversy over its social network Google+. With the network’s introduction of a new user pseudonym policy and an automatic opt-in for all new Gmail accounts this week, it looks like the debates around Google+, privacy, and the integrity of Google’s search results are just getting started.

We kicked off the New Year with Google’s rollout of “Search Plus Your World,” [1] a new system that strives to make search results more relevant and personalized by integrating [1] Google’s social search, personal search, and personalized search algorithms into one.  Search Plus immediately sparked controversy among online privacy advocates [2], who contend [2] that Google’s Search Plus is in violation of the settlement [3] the FTC and Google reached back in March 2011. The ruling requires Google to establish a comprehensive privacy policy, submit to independent privacy audits for the next 20 years, and make features ‘opt-in only’ if they make available the sharing of private user information.  Other concerns have come from Google’s competitors—Facebook and Twitter among others—who claim the new service gives preference to Google+ content over other social sources, and in doing so, dilutes the overall quality of Google’s search results.

Check out the following resources to read more on the criticism Google’s Search Plus has received to date:

The debate over Google+ and Search Plus doesn’t stop here, though.  With the recent introduction of Google’s new username policy and its automatic Google+ opt-in for all new Gmail accounts, we can expect to hear a lot more from the privacy advocacy community as well as Google’s competitors.

Google+ now allows pseudonyms (well, not really)- The debate over online identity and the use of pseudonyms on social networks has been an on-going topic within a larger discourse about privacy, public identity, freedom of thought and expression, and advertisement in the digital era.  Google Plus weighed in on this debate on Monday and changed their policy to allow users to use nicknames and pseudonyms on the network.

Don’t get too excited. This doesn’t mean we will be able to revive our old AIM usernames.  Google will only allow users to use nicknames, maiden names, or pseudonyms if the user can prove to Google through the proper documentation that he or she is publicly known under that name either on- or offline.  If Google flags a user profile that it suspects to be operating under a pseudonym, Google requests the user provide substantial proof [9] of their identity though “references to an established identity online in print media, official documentation, or proof of an established online identity with a meaningful following.”*  “We want to build a product that is for humanity at large, and we recognize people have many notions around identity and ways to represent themselves,” states Bradley Horowitz in a Google+ post [9] announcing the change.  “We want to be as inclusive as possible while still ensuring the integrity of the system and the community.”

Automatic Google+ opt-in- Google Operating System [10] (not affiliated with Google) broke the news on Friday that users can no longer sign up for a new Gmail account without automatically creating a Google Profile and joining Google+.  In response to Google Operating System’s post, a Google spokesperson explained [10],  “We’re working to develop a consistent sign-up flow across our different products as part of our efforts to create an intuitive, beautifully simple, Google-wide user experience.  Making it quick and easy to create a Google Account and a Google profile enables new users to take advantage of everything Google can offer.”

Focus on the user- Developers at Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace have developed a demo [11], which allows users to view how often Google ignores relevant results from other social networks in favor of its own Google+ profiles.  The tool relies entirely on Google’s own data.  Here’s how it works [11], “If Google decides that it’s relevant to surface a Google+ page as a result in any of the areas where Google+ content is hardcoded [12], the tool searches Google for the name of the Google+ page.  Then, the tool identifies the social profiles within the first ten pages of Google results (top 100 results). The ones Google ranks highest — whether they are from Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Quora, Tumblr, Foursquare, Crunchbase, FriendFeed, Stack Overflow, Github or Google+ — replace the previous results that could only be from Google+.  This tool is offered as a bookmarklet [13], which is a small bit of code that runs in a web browser and temporarily enables additional functionality.”

What do you think about Search Plus?  How has it impacted your Google search experience?  And has it changed your opinion of Google+?

 

* Italics added by author.