Richi Jennings

Privacy and anti-trust flap over Google 'Search, Plus Your World'

January 12, 2012 6:00 AM EST
GoogleGoogle (NASDAQ:GOOG) could be in hot water over a new search feature. Known as 'Search, Plus Your World,' it adds tight integration with Google+, leaving Twitter and Facebook out in the cold. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers foresee privacy and anti-trust hazards ahead.
[Updated to add a PR response from Google]
Your humble blogwatcher (@richi ) curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment. Not to mention: The Reddiquette Song...
Juan Carlos Perez reports critics' accusations:
The complaints have come from..competitors and industry experts..[who] charge Google with...deliberately boost[ing] Google+'s popularity, by giving [it] an artificially prominent position.
Google, after many missteps in the social networking market, launched Google+ in mid-2011, and has made it clear..that Google+ will be a key, unifying product for the company. .. Google+ is also a rival to Twitter because Google+ can be used in similar ways as the microblogging phenomenon. .. In fact, among the first to cry foul this week was Twitter.    M0RE
Jessica Guynn says an FTC investigation is "likely":
[The] Electronic Privacy Information Center, said [it's] considering filing a letter with the FTC. .. "We believe this is something that the FTC needs to look at."
Google calls the new feature.."Search Plus Your World." It blends information..posted on its Google+ social network results. .. But critics contend using its dominance in Internet search to favor its own products and take on [Facebook] its chief competitor.
Critics also say the move raises alarm bells for consumer privacy. .. [EPIC] says the FTC needs to go further to protect consumer privacy. .. "This is a problem the FTC needs to look at closely."    M0RE

An anonymous EPIC spokesdroid blogged thuswise:
Although data from a user’s Google+ contacts is not displayed publicly,..the personal data of users [is now] more accessible. Users..cannot opt out of having their information found through Google search.
[Google] is facing increased scrutiny over whether it distorts search results by giving preference to its own content. .. [The] FTC is investigating whether Google uses its inhibit competition.    M0RE

Danny Sullivan has concrete examples:
Huge debate..over whether it somehow favors Google+. I can see now that it clearly does, even more than I thought.
[A] “People and Pages on Google+” section..appears. Some of Google’s prime ad real estate is supplanted with this new box. ..  But there’s no suggestion of..pages from competing social networks. It wouldn’t be hard for Google to figure this out.
Google’s to direct searchers to the most relevant information..not just to information that Google may have an interest in. .. [T]hat’s the standard Google’s search results should aim for, returning the best.    M0RE

Meanwhile, Eric Eldon posits that it's a tactic to spoil Facebook's IPO:
The situation seems like an antitrust case waiting to happen. .. You’d think that Google has an intimate awareness of what it can and can’t get away with, given how often it has been scrutinized..already.
[Perhaps it's] a grand strategy for provoking the US government to and social products as a single issue, in a way that puts Facebook on the defensive. .. Facebook has played favorites with developers..[and] partners throughout its history, without any serious legal scrutiny..includ[ing] showing stories from favored parties more often,..under-enforcing any spammy trangressions,..early access to viral features, etc.
Google can argue that Facebook has gone even further than anything involving Google+. Facebook provides Bing search as the only third-party results..and it also provides Microsoft with additional public data including individual Likes, that gets incorporated into Bing.
You can imagine how Google might frame this to the government. .. [But] it’s unclear if the Justice Department will take this sort of issue seriously.    M0RE

But John Battelle thinks he knows why that won't fly:
I’ve heard from a source with knowledge of the..[2009] negotiations over integration of Facebook’s data into Google’s search index..[who] explained to me that..Google balked at Facebook’s request that Facebook data be protected. .. Google claimed no way to keep data within circles of friends in the context of a Google search.
“Senior executives at Google insisted that for technical reasons all information would need to be public.” .. But the source goes on to point out that..Google does exactly what it claims it could not do with Facebook data.    M0RE
Update: Kristin Burnham has some great tips:
No one can see your private content..[it's] visible only to you, unless you've shared them. .. To change the "Edit" on your Photos and Posts pages to update your preferences.
To turn off personal results, [at] the top-right of your search results the globe icon.
If you don't want your Google profile to appear in anyone's autocomplete list, you can choose not to have your profile indexed by search engines. .. [In] your Google+ account, "Edit profile." On the "About" tab, click the "Profile discovery" section. Then, uncheck "Help others discover my profile". .. Then click "Save."    M0RE
Update 2: Via email, Google's Rachel Whetstone issues this strawman-esque statement about the 2009 Facebook talks to which Battelle refers:
We want to set the record straight. In 2009, we were negotiating with Facebook over access to its data, as has been reported. To claim that..we couldn’t reach an agreement because Google wanted to make private data publicly available is simply untrue.    
And Finally...
Reddiquette Song

[hat tip: CGPGrey]

Don't miss out on IT Blogwatch:

Richi Jennings, your humble blogwatcherRichi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and security. He's the creator and main author of Computerworld's IT Blogwatch -- for which he has won American Society of Business Publication Editors and Jesse H. Neal awards on behalf of Computerworld. He also writes The Long View for IDG Enterprise. A cross-functional IT geek since 1985, you can follow him as @richi on Twitter, pretend to be richij's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email: You can also read Richi's full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.