Google Draws Flak From Reader Group Over Privacy

December 28, 2007 0

Google learns from its Reader fiasco that sharing is not the same as caring…

“When Google launched its Reader service for reading blogs earlier this month; its corporate advertisement outrageously claimed ‘Reader and Talk are Friends!’”

On Dec. 14, Google announced that Reader, its RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed service, would link with contacts from Google Talk, the company’s instant messenger, and Gmail, its Web-based e-mail service. Any feed tagged to “Share” in Reader would be visible to any Talk or Gmail contact.

“It seems trying to make the Web more social is tricky for even Google, which prides itself on exercising caution before implementing new features that affect users…”

Google Reader aggregates selected news feeds in a central location, and allows users to share entries via a public Web site with the click of the mouse.

Until recently, Google Reader has allowed people to share items they are interested in with others since 2006 with hyperlinks, clips on blogs and storing them on a public page that you had to know the URL for to see.

“On Dec. 14, however, Google announced that it would integrate users’ shared feeds with everyone on their Gmail chat lists.”

That meant that any Gmail user with whom you have ever chatted or exchanged e-mail would be able to see your shared newsfeeds on the left-hand navigation bar should they also access Reader.

Ever hit “reply all” to a party invitation or had a two-line conversation with a business acquaintance? If they are also Reader users, the update would now allow them to see that you “shared” a recent Perez Hilton dissection of the Jamie Lynn Spears pregnancy.

However, the promotion as well as the Reader service back-fired as the views learnt it the hard way when they realized that even a chat with a person on Google Talk enabled the person to find out and share the other’s news feed.

Thus, the experiment launched by Google barely a few weeks ago to add power to its Talk service has now met with scorn. What has angered the Reader Group more is the company’s “irresponsible” response to their complaints and concerns.

“May make settings more “granular” for auto-sharing of feeds with contacts…”

Google Inc., last week said it would consider tweaking a new sharing feature of its Reader service, so that your shared items are automatically made available to your Google Talk contacts, the only concession thus far to a users’ revolt that has been building on blogs and message forums for nearly two weeks.

Reader users can now separate shared newsfeeds into categories that are only accessible to friends if that user sends them a direct link.

The news brought immediate reaction from some. Reaction in the blogosphere and on Reader feedback forums was swift.

“I do not want my ex-husband reading my feeds,” a user identified as Spunky posted on the forums. “But, I need to keep his email address in my contacts because we still need to communicate regarding the details of our divorce.”

Danny Sullivan, search analyst and the editor-in-chief of SearchEngineLand.com, for example, said he liked the feature in general, but was not happy with how Google implemented it.

“Google Reader never asked if I wanted to be connected with my friends, i.e., whether I wanted to have Google itself start behind-the-scenes making relationships in Google Reader for me with people that previously were restricted to chat,” Sullivan said in a post to his blog on Dec. 17. “It is disconcerting.”

In a Wednesday blog post, Google unveiled a new function that allows users to separate shared feeds into different categories or “tags” that can be made public or private. Shared feeds placed in these separate folders will only be accessible if a user sends their friends an e-mail invite or a link to their shared page.

Recently, Facebook was forced to modify its new Beacon ad targeting service that notifies friends in your network when you buy things on sites of Facebook partners. Facebook made that an opt-in feature, however, after consumer groups and Facebook members complained the service violated people’s privacy.

“Google, too, has been crucified in the blogosphere over its Google Reader change, with bloggers saying the Google Talk contact sharing feature should be opt in, not opt out.”

“Facebook created limited profiles,” said a user named MV. “Maybe take it a step further and create friend categories. This way I can present information to different people more easily.”

Others were much harsher in their criticism, including many of those who have posted 270 messages so far to a thread on a Google Reader forum.

“This is by far the worst feature ever added by Google,” said a user with the alias “kronicfatigue.”

As a result, a feature designed to make sharing easier led to brouhaha in the blogosphere, thanks to several irate posts on Google’s Groups forum.

Google Reader Product Manager Chrix Finne said in a Dec. 26 blog post Google had underestimated the number of users who were using the Share button to send stories to a limited number of people.

To make it clear what users are getting into with the Reader sharing feature, Finne detailed several ways to share items without letting all Google Talk friends see them.

Sullivan, editor of the Search Engine Land blog, writes: “Frankly, a better solution would be to dump the friends sharing feature until it comes back in a new form, where you specifically and deliberately create a list of contacts that you do want to share material with.”

So far, it is all good. But with the introduction of the Facebook’s Beacon disaster, many users see this as a source for misusing their personal data by others.

Many people now want the facility to be turned off as they fear that everyone related to them – family members, relatives, friends as well as business associates sharing and knowing their feeds. This is an encroachment into their privacy, they scream, adding that there is a lack of privacy security on the site now.

“Now, it remains to be seen how the Search Engine giant responds to the mass disdain. Whether it will be lured to ignore the concerns of the Reader Group only time will tell.”

“Please keep your feedback coming,” Finne concluded.