Google Reader Becomes Holiday Snitch

    December 26, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

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.