Can Google+ encircle privacy?

August 10, 2011 2:05 pm

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The circumference of the Google+ circles may prove to be a dotted one.

By its very nature social media depends almost entirely on the sharing of information; reblogging on Tumblr liking on Facebook retweeting on Twitter and now on sharing with one’s circles on the new social networking site Google+.However some of the most pressing and delicate issues that surround social networks are privacy security and understandable fears of over-exposure. Walking such a tightrope it is certainly easy to misstep. Indeed Facebook has been at the end of such criticism as have Google with Buzz. But has Google finally found that much-coveted balance between sharing and concealing with its new circles model Google+?

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Using specific circles to group one’s contacts might prove to be a step in the right direction. By contrast Facebook’s system of friends becomes a vague unsatisfying system of one size fits all.”The problem is that today’s online services turn friendship into fast food — wrapping everyone in ‘friend’ paper — and sharing really suffers ” said Google spokesperson Gundotra. It is not the concept of sharing per se that is altered in Google+ then but rather the variety and manner of that sharing action. In Google+ one may tailor privacy settings according to the nature of one’s contacts.

Such flexibility in privacy allows the Google+ user to pick and choose the model best suited for his/her particular situation. Whereas the Facebook model persistently asks the user ‘Are you sure you know this person in real life?’ and Twitter encourages users to make online connections where no physical ones previously existed Google+ allows users to shape the service (and therefore the amount of sharing and concealing) as they wish according to their diverse real-life social networks.

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In launching Google+, Google exalted their own products’ privacy and security settings, and fairly so, since they allow the user to choose to switch on/off  automatic geo tag information as well as appearing in any circles or any search engine results.

Nevertheless, it is also fair to point out that when a user shares a post with a specific circle, there is nothing to stop the members of that circle to then re-share that post with anyone and everyone in their own circles. Google+ warns the user that ‘this post was originally shared with a limited audience – remember to be thoughtful about who you share it with’, but the effectiveness of this technique is evidently limited and easily bypassed with a quick ‘OK, Got it.’ In this way, circles may lull users in a false sense of security. The circumference of the Google+ circles may prove to be a dotted one.

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