Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Google Reader's Sharing and Privacy: Overblown or Not?

Privacy and Google: many people say they don't mix, or at least, don't mix well. Seems like every day we hear about some new Google privacy flap. Here's still another problem, but is it somewhat overblown?

On Dec. 14th, in Google Reader Help and on the Official Google Reader Blog, they posted about a new feature, which, as they put it:
The short description of it is this: If any of your friends from Google Talk are using Reader and sharing items, you'll see them listed in your sidebar under "Friends' shared items." Similarly, they'll be able to see any items you're sharing. You can hide items from any friend you don't want to see, and you can also opt out of sharing by removing all your shared items.

This is still a very experimental feature, so we'd love to hear what you think of it. Thanks, and happy sharing!
That last line about it being experimental is key, I think, as it appears they didn't gauge public reaction too well.

The very first post in reply to the announcement (full thread here) shows one of the key things wrong with this feature: no granularity. In this I would agree. This is an RSS Reader, not a social networking site. I might want to share things with my friends, but just because they are in my contacts list doesn't mean I want to share anything with them.

Take a look at the full thread and you'll see a lot of complaints, a few responses from Google (not very helpful, either) and a lot of enmity growing.

A lot of blogs are picking up on this, and while there are valid points, one point should be remembered: everything in your Shared Items list was already being shared, and to the entire world.

A lot of people forget about the "Public Page" automatically created when you share Google Reader items. The entire Internet can see that page. However, and this is important: that link is obfuscated. It's not something anyone's going to guess. (BTW, I have nothing shared, and I wouldn't give my URL out here anyway, so you'll have to try it on your own.)

So here's what I think went wrong:
  • Google thought: it's all public anyway, this is just making it easily accessible to your "friends."
  • Google forgot: contacts are not the same as friends.
It's an easy fix. OK, it's a conceptually easy fix. First they'll have to admit they made a mistake, though. Photobucket

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