Google Reader Becomes Holiday Snitch

Merry Christmas. Now Mom and Santa know all about you.

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Google’s orchestrating its own Facebook-Beacon-esque fiasco with its latest addition to Google Reader. Users are miffed (to put it lightly) that their shared feeds were suddenly broadcast to anybody they’d had a conversation with via Google Talk or Gmail chat.

WebProNews’ David Utter was early on the scene with concerns after Google made the change, which by default notified contacts about items users had marked as "shared." That meant it was another "opt-out" feature introduced destined to be popular with data-collectors and abhorred by privacy-loving users.

The user complaints have been pouring in to Google Groups ever since users realized that what they assumed to be private information was now public information to all of their Google Talk contacts. There’s a nice rundown of those complaints at a Slashdot thread by Felipe Hoffa, the most ouch-inducing one coming the weekend before Christmas:

"This is going to sound like hyperbole, but this new feature has actually RUINED CHRISTMAS for my family! I sent a share a few days ago that I thought would only go to a few politically-like-minded friends. I didn’t realize that because I had chatted with him in GChat, it would also go to my brother, who is of a different political persuasion. When he received it, he sent a snide, angry email about it to a large group of our family members….He called me a nasty name and told me that if I can’t take a little ribbing, maybe we shouldn’t talk anymore at all, including at Christmas Eve dinner. My whole family has taken sides over this divisive political issue, and several of them are not speaking."  

Google’s response to the complaints wasn’t taken well, either. A spokesperson, signing his post only "Graham," made Google’s official stance that the complaints were coming from a "small subset" of users and most people seemed to like the new shared feature. They’d work on it, but it being the holidays and all, improvements might come a little slower than usual.

Graham noted previously that "The ‘share’ feature was always intended to imply some amount of publicity. That’s why we used the term ‘share’ and had shared items marked as public by default on the Settings > Tags page."

In other words, it’s the users’ fault, not ours that your feeds were shared with people you didn’t want to see them. Somehow I think that’s not going to fly with incensed users. But if they don’t like it, there’s an option. Says Graham, "If you’re uncomfortable sharing items, you can unshare everything in a single click."

Or delete your entire shared items history. You know, after your mom or your competitors have already had access to it. The only way to block a contact from viewing the shared items is to delete them from your contacts list entirely, an option one disgruntled user called "insane."

Google’s going to need to get a grip on this before it balloons into a debacle similar to Facebook’s (if it hasn’t already). Privacy advocates already are keeping a sharp eye on the company. This won’t help their case a bit.



Google Reader Becomes Holiday Snitch
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  • http://www.thinkhope.com Guest

    As an IT person, I love it when people blame the computer, software or software maker when things work exactly as they were designed to work. It’s sort of like people complaining when they press down on the gas pedal in traffic and end up rear ending the person in front of them and then blaming Ford or GM for their newly created problems.

    I have one word for anyone who “posts” anything that is supposed to be “private” on the Internet. EMAIL! Email that kind of stuff to those who you want to receive it and hopefully your intended recipients won’t forward it to anyone you don’t want to see it, or you won’t accidently drop their email address into the to or cc lists as you’re composing your email.

    Of course, even email can be seen by any mail administrator….so even email is not truly private….whenever you send anything out on the Internet, it is BROADCASTED….oh how people forget the very first notice that Internet Explorer gives regarding privacy.

    Privacy is only an illusion folks….and always will be to one degree or another.

  • http://www.mycarolinaproperties.com/ Joe

    With this being the “Information/Communication Age” we as individuals are losing privacy & confidentiality in our lives by leaps and bounds.

    Controls to protect our personal information need to & should be in place for every aspect of our lives, from fears of identity theft to exploitation of private & personal information, it is getting out of hand. It is bad enough that for small fee one can access the most personal of information, about an individual they have not even met. It is not too much to ask, to keep a private online chat private or as private as us as users choose, is it?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love these online social networking sites, but if I make contact with a client via ‘example Google Reader’ and presume a chat through any social networking site, confidentiality becomes a BIG issue! Even on the lighter side, per say one may blow a surprise of sorts?

    God forbid the wrong kind of or any individual gets any information that can manipulated or be used against them or exploited.

    The confidence of control needs to be in the hands of the user, I am a fan of Google, and I do not wish to be nervous when using their products.

    • Guest

      No one FORCES anyone to put ANYTHING about themselves online. Other than the stuff I cant really control easily (my IP address, and browsing history, for example), I will *never* contribute to LinkedIn, Facebook, Myspace, the myriad of photo sharing and all those other “social services”, and so on. Never. There is absolutely no reason for others to see or experience what I see and experience.

      In the past the saying whent “if you want it kept private, dont ever write it down”. Today you have to add “and dont add it to the internet in any way shape or form”.

      I never did share well in Kindergarten and I am happy about it today!!

  • http://www.infobulb.com Max Ikbal

    G is starting to become a “net dictator” as it is imposing it’s ‘features’ on the users. why can’t these guys ASK the users what we want before they roll out a feature that THEY think will be beneficial. We DO NOT want google to tell us what we need to do (i.e. delete ‘em if you don’t want to share it).

    There is a big difference between sharing things with your friends and making it public. I think a lawsuit might bring google back to it’s senses.

    • Michael

      Are you kidding? Do you have access to Google user surveys? Are you sure that they didn’t ASK users before rolling out the feature? Happy users don’t typically publicize their feelings about a new feature so all you hear is negative feedback from users who hate it.

      You guys are insane if you’re putting up feeds (do you know what this means?) that are even semi-private. Whoever has access to the feed could just propagate it anyway. I mean, people, e-mail isn’t even safe.

  • Guest

    This controversy couldn’t happen to a more deserving company. Any company that thinks it’s virtuous to deny help to civil authorities in the US for tracking down child-porn traffickers and pedophiles yet sees no problem helping communist governments track down dissidents and filter web sites per their approved list is an evil company and doesn’t deserve to exist.
    Sadly, this little fiasco will blow over and it will all be love-and-kisses again between Google and its sycophants in no time.

  • Guest

    The term “Share” means in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary
    1. to divide and distribute in shares
    2. to partake of, use, experience, or enjoy with others

    If Google believes that sharing means sharing with all no matter what then ask Google to turn over all their files that are classified because doesn’t that mean all not classified but sharing. It would be best to fix the problem so it is easy like “to share – means everyone, “to not share – only the people you select. Easy way no double talk.

  • Shanmugam

    I heard all the hype about facebook and logged into it. Even though it says I can alter my privacy settings, I was very disturbed when I was able to see even apps others were using. I didn’t like the idea and so deleted my account. Google must not follow facebook.

  • http://www.ps3hax.net/member.php?u=170789 Laure Pleva

    now thats an well written site. thanks for taking the time to post that. saved to my favs

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