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Google Introduces Facebook Competitor, Emphasizing Privacy (nytimes.com)
162 points by rakkhi on June 28, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

>"Mr. Gundotra and Mr. Horowitz said that knowing more about individual Google users will improve all Google products, including ads, search, YouTube and maps, because Google will learn what people like and eventually be able to personalize those products."

I am obviously ignorant in my belief:

    privacy != Google obtaining and storing increasingly intimate personal data

They mean privacy with respect with other users. Newspeak. I hope this way of interpreting the word doesn't catch on.

I'm sympathetic to these worries, but to play devil's advocate I wonder which kind of privacy most people actually care more about. Given the choice between having one's boss/co-workers/family/spouse learn some embarrassing secret about you, and having random strangers at a large corporation learn it, which would most people pick?

Even Google employees generally don't have access to your data stored at Google, so it's really boss/co-workers/family/spouse vs. a computer.

This applies now, but that data isn't going anywhere. There's nothing to stop that policy from changing in the future.

Other than FTC and DOJ oversight, you mean.

There's no question that people care more about what their immediate acquaintances know about them. That doesn't mean it's a great path for society, though.

Unfortunately the fashionable thing to do these days is to assume that everything will work out for the best on its own.

I completely agree. But I think if you want things to change it helps to understand why people make the decisions they do (and that they're "locally" rational most of the time).

Are suggesting that the personal information you upload to Facebook isn't available to random strangers at that particular corporation?

At least Google has aspirations of not being evil. Mark Zuckerberg only seems to aspire to eliminating privacy altogether.

My post was hypothetical; I'd imagine Google does have rules and procedures in place to keep your data private vis-a-vis random voyeurism by employees (but how would I know?)

I do find it amusing that the control of the web and computing by a handful of companies is now apparently ingrained in some people's heads as axiomatic, such that any apparent criticism of one oligarch is automatically a defense of the other.

I'm not defending Google, I'm just pointing out that, unlike Facebook, their founders haven't declared the "Age of Privacy" as over.

FWIW: I dislike Facebook but I use it anyway because that's where everyone I know seems to be. If I could substitute it for another service that lets me more tightly control who sees what, then great.

I prefer a random stranger to know that I was out drinking last night vs my boss. One has more immediate implications to my income the other, much less likely.

When that random stranger is Eric Schmidt & co...?

Which will directly affect me more, my wife learning about my adulterous affair, or Eric Schmidt learning about my affair?

Which will directly affect humanity more?

That's what I was thinking. If my options are "A company that openly ignores its users' privacy" and "A company whose core competency is data mining", I'm likely to continue with option C: Don't use either.

Being entirely fair, Google is better about the whole privacy thing. This is undeniable: barring government requests and rogue sysadmins, only algorithms look at my data. It's plausible that an algorithm will remain impartial. Google just also has a lot more information about me already. I'm hesitant to hand over any more.

Even if privacy weren't a concern, I don't see the point in using either one. People have email. If I really need to talk to or share something with someone, I'll email them. Or occasionally, IM them. Or maybe even call them. Or if they're nearby, maybe go have lunch with them. I don't need to share everything every day at all times with everyone. Nobody is that interesting. Nobody is that interested. And nothing is that vital.

ACLs (Access Control Lists) are the real benefit that social networks give. It's a system where loads of people already have an account, so it's easy to share things (e.g. photos) with a limited set of people. Obviously you can ask people to sign up for an account on <site where you photos are>, but asking people to sign up for Yet Another Web Account just seems 'dirty.' You could host it somewhere with a single password, but then it's hard to revoke access, or sent certain sets of photos to certain people. You could have per-album passwords, but now people have to remember (or write down) a list of passwords and map them to the albums that they are associated with.

A lot of people have posted here about alternatives that retain privacy, then others lament "who would do it? ... could a start-up succeed?"

There is an alternative -- on the horizon, anyway -- that's all about privacy. You don't have to choose between privacy from your community and privacy from a faceless corporation.

The FreedomBox project -- http://www.freedomboxfoundation.org, inspired by Eben Moglen, who helped write the GPL -- aims to create a network where users own their own data. If you've used, say, Wikipedia or a site run on Linux, you know how projects based on his vision can work in time.

It's not ready here and now, but this community can help contribute to it.

One component to FreedomBox is to replace many current "cloud-based" services which gather and store personal data with peer-to-peer versions where you own your data on your FreedomBox.


Who in their right mind would use the social services of a company like this:

>"Google settled with the Federal Trade Commission over charges of deceptive privacy practices related to Buzz and agreed to 20 years of audits."

The same people who use Facebook because they

a) don't know about the privacy issues, or

b) don't care, or

c) use it to promote their business (much like Pages on Facebook.)

Doesn't that mean they're going to be more trustworthy than anyone else? They've got direct supervision from the federal government.

Sure, like a drug dealer is more trustworthy because he's on parole and has to meet with a parole officer once a month.

That doesn't seem like an accurate analogy to me. Google was being investigated for what were basically accidental breeches of privacy, not for anything that was actively malicious.

One rock of Google+ please my good sir.

well, personally I would much prefer only google having my information (and using it for google ads or whatever they use it for) than a bunch of unknown third parties.

But that is assuming that google does not pass it off also, which im not quite sure of

What if the exact same service, with exact same feature set was introduced by a startup and not Google? Would we still see the same type of hostility towards that too? I don't think so.

Yes, it is correct that google harvests your information to feed you more targeted ads. But it doesn't mean that if a startup, started initially as a "do no evil" company becomes as big as google or facebook won't do the same(targeted ads).

Since all these services are free to use, easiest or maybe only possible way to make profit off them is by advertising. Since nothing comes for free, you will pay for the service by sharing your personal information. Which in turn means onus lies on you to see what is it that you want to share.

>"What if the exact same service, with exact same feature set was introduced by a startup and not Google?"

I suspect that the New York Times would be more circumspect in their use of the word "privacy" and not employ it in such a narrow sense in their headline.

To put it another way, I agree with your argument regarding the relationship between free services and advertising. The lack of journalism in the article is more unusual, which given the huge changes in what constitutes news over the past several years, is saying a lot.

The challenges Google Plus faces are quite apparent from the end of the article page. Right next to the link to page 2 there is:

Connect with The New York Times on Facebook.

If Google gives benefits in their search results to content websites that integrate with their own +1, I'm pretty sure that's not a problem ;-)

I definitely tried to sign up and after submitting the form on the "Keep me Posted" page, I got a 500 internal server error. Good job google

Count me as one of the folks that believes Google ought to fix search before it takes on the juggernauts of the consumer web. But that could just be the SEO in me talking.

isn't a lot of the future of search potentially tied into social?

No question. But part of why a lot of searches & recommendations are happening through social to begin with is because there are still so many algorithmic flaws in organic search. Issues that have plagued search for the better part of 15 years that are just now are starting to be addressed at a high level, I.E. content farms, differentiation between content owners & borrowers/duplicators, etc.

How so? How will knowing what my friends and contacts "like" help Google not respond to my searches with content farm-ed crap?

> How will knowing what my friends and contacts "like" help Google not respond to my searches with content farm-ed crap?

If your friends "like" a Stack Exchange post but not Experts Exchange, isn't it obvious how this would help them filter out the bad ones?

98% of my FB friends don't know about Stack Exchange or Experts Exchange. The other 2% are my IT-department co-workers.

Do 98% of your facebook friends search on subjects that would be found at Stack Exchange or Experts Exchange?

If the answer is no, then any algorithm that takes into account collective searches and 'likes' will ignore them because they wouldn't fit within the cluster of people relevant to that search term.

The "keep me posted" form produces a 500 error. Not off to an auspicious start.

When this happened to me, I noticed there was a 'en-gb' in the URL. I switched it to 'en-us' and it worked.

I got a 404.

200 here

Just an aside: I'm having fun imagining a single-click "move from Facebook to Google+" link going viral. I don't know if it's technically possible. But consider the people who browse while signed into Facebook. Add the ability to export your Facebook data (not 100% sure this is possible). Doesn't seem too far-fetched that Google could cobble something together. Also when I click and move everything over perhaps my friends would be informed/spammed about the move with the option to move themselves. It's "Facebook-magedon"!!

If another startup creates a social network allowing greater privacy, smaller groups, levels of social circles, then I'd gladly switch to them. But never to Google.

What if it was created by Microsoft? What about Apple?

  > What about Apple?
Customer: My friends and family found out that I was sleeping around on my wife! Apple allowed this to happen!

Steve Jobs: Just change your friends and family. Not that big of a deal.

[1] http://www.tipb.com/2009/11/20/steve-jobs-tells-ipodrip-chan...

I actually own the domain NewCircles.com and was working on an idea very similar to what Google has done here (including group video chat) but with emphasis on users finding and joining NEW circles instead of just organizing existing friends into circles. Think Meetup mashed with Facebook with a dash of Chatroulette.

After this announcement I'm not sure if I should continue working on my project...

No comment on whether you should continue, but this would be a poor reason to give up.

It increases the likelihood of google acquiring you if you do it well, if anything.

Does it require a public Google Profile, like Buzz now does? To me, the answer to that question would be important indicator of how much Google+ emphasizes privacy.

Advertising your site as a "Facebook competitor" (instead of implying it) is a recipe for failure because you want people to look at your site as something completely unique rather than putting it next to Facebook immediately.

Is Google+ being advertised that way? I see that in the news articles about Google+, but not in Google's own materials.

That was my fault. The article gave an impression that Google was advertising it like that.

Um, I think all of the Google people interviewed have gone out of their way to say it isn't a "Facebook competitor". I assume this is just a copy-editor at the NYTimes who sees it that way.

I think that's true for small startups, but for someone like Google? Presumably, nearly everyone with a gmail address will already be a user, which means that there won't be any migration hassles - "I'd join, but Timmy and Jimbo aren't on GooBook yet!"

Apple tried to use the same philosophy: everyone has an Apple ID, so there's no migration issue. Look how that turned out.

But I understand what point you're trying to make. This will get used, but I don't see it becoming a true Facebook rival because of the network effect Facebook relies on. If users were to migrate in masses, on the other hand, Facebook would be dead within a short amount of time. Sadly, that's not going to happen anytime soon.

Switching social networks is not the same as switching email services. You don't just up and move. Millions switched from MySpace to Facebook but what they really did was join Facebook while still using MySpace. And then using MySpace less. And then not at all. So, in theory, people could "join" Google+ because they see it in the toolbar while they're searching, and if there are a few killer features that bring them back (Hangouts? Sparks?) they might use Facebook less. And eventually maybe enough of their friends are on Google+ that they stop using Facebook. Or maybe not. But they definitely don't need to make a walk-the-plank decision today.

MySpace wasn't prepared for Facebook, and ignored it until about 2009 when it was too late. People saw their friends on Facebook, so they stopped using MySpace (hence the network effect I mentioned earlier). Facebook /will/ fight for its social dominance, but (generally speaking) there is a site out there that they don't know about and won't be prepared for (aka "the next Facebook")

One can fight and lose all the same.

Friendster fought against MySpace et al, and still lost ground because of its poor architecture.

Facebook being 4th generation social networking won't fail because of poor architecture, nor because of poor UI.

It may fail due to privacy concerns though since its leadership seems fanatical about reducing restrictions to information, rather than allowing its users to segment themselves.

> but there is a site out there that they don’t know about and won't be prepared for.

Care to illucidate us?

I think he means that there is always a competitor on the horizon.

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