Google+ and privacy

Steve Henn Jul 29, 2011

Facebook has been rightly scrutinized for how it treats your personal information – what is shared and what is not. And at first blush Google+ feels like it give users more control – but the information Google shares with your social circles and the control it offers users are just one piece of the puzzle.

There are also really important questions to be asked about what Google does behind the scenes with the information it collects about you. And reporters are just beginning to ask them.

This post and the follow up by Julie Bort are worth a read.

In one case Bort says Google called a reporter’s home phone number – a number she did not remember giving them – to confirm her identity.

She put in her business phone number. Google+ rejected the phone number. It then initiated an automated phone call TO HER HOME NUMBER. That phone call asked her to verify her plus account.

UPDATE: Google says in this case, this woman was called at home because she opted in to a two-step identity verification program and that prompted a call. Google’s public affairs folks say Google is not correlating phone numbers with your information on Google +.

But Google *is *coordinating your data with information about you gleaned from other social networks. You can opt out if you want – but my guess is most folks don’t know this is even going on.

Here’s another creepy story from another Network World editor. For a few months, whenever this editor used Google search, Google would show him relevant tweets from people he was following on his Twitter account within search results. But, he never actually gave Google his Twitter handle. In fact, it would always ask him to verify his Twitter name even as it served up the Tweets. Google was guessing about his Twitter identity, probably using the fact that the editor gave Twitter his Gmail account. Google saw messages from that Twitter account coming into his Gmail, correlated the two and started serving up unasked for Tweets

Google’s been upfront about the fact it scans g-mail accounts electronically to place advertising – but could it also be scanning your e-mail for other business purposes? It’s almost enough to send you running for that g-mail privacy policy to dig through the fine print.

And Microsoft is there to help you. It’s trying to fan consumer’s privacy fears with videos about the G-Mailman reading your e-mail.

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