Skip Links

Google Search Strips Privacy from 'Your World'

To hell with your privacy. You are automatically opted-in to Google search plus 'Your World' since there's no privacy setting to exclude your photos and private Google+ posts from showing up in the search results of 'suggested connections.' Google personalized search results also integrate suggested links from your Gmail contacts, chat buddies, Google Reader subscriptions, and other Google Social Search connections.

By Ms. Smith on Wed, 01/11/12 - 1:31pm.

If you signed into your Google account, then you noticed that Google stripped privacy from your digital world. This 'personal' search results change is neither privacy by design, nor by default. Even 'opting-out' per Google signed-in session will not stop others from seeing your data in their Google search results. You are automatically opted-in since there's no privacy setting to exclude your 'social' info or photos from showing up for other folks.

To hell with your privacy, as Google's definition of the cyber-world lines up with the "follow me" social networking mindset; online it's a social media "it's all about me" frenzy. That's just the way it is, but the new personalized Google search results integrate your photos and Google+ posts that were shared to allegedly privacy-enhancing Google+ Circles, to be shown to anyone Google deems is a 'suggested connection.' Your own search results will include other links suggested to you based off your Gmail contacts, chat buddies, Google Reader subscriptions and Google Social Search "connections linked from your public Google profile, such as the people you're following on Twitter or FriendFeed." Is it cool to see some of those suggested links shared? Yes, but that doesn't mean I personally chose to have my privacy stripped in an 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours' search world.

Search plus Your World, according to Google Blog, has "Unprecedented security, transparency and control. When it comes to security and privacy, we set a high bar for Search plus Your World. We also want to be transparent about how our features work and give you control over how to use them. With today's changes, we provide interface elements and control settings like those you'll find in Google+. For example, personal results are clearly marked as Public, Limited or Only you. Additionally, people in your results are clearly marked with the Google+ circle they are in, or as suggested connections."

Google Support states, "Getting personal results isn't just convenient and fast -- it's also private. No one else will see your private content in their results unless you've shared it with them. Learn more about the visibility of personal results." Furthermore, here Google claims, "No one else will see your private content."

Now I call BS on that last one. Heck you don't even have to be connected on Google+; it still shows results that were never shared with you, but the person is a "suggested connection." Isn't that their "private content" that was not shared with you? An example, even without clicking on "personal results," under the top search results it shows 'Joe Doe shared this.' If you mouse over 'Joe Doe,' then Google shows he's a "suggested connection." After clicking on the link that Joe Doe shared, you are taken to his Google+ profile which clearly states, Joe "hasn't shared anything with you."

Yes you can tweak how your results are displayed, unpersonalize them, but it's only good per signed-in session.

  1. Click the gear icon gear in the top right corner of the search results page.
  2. Click Search settings.
  3. In the "Search plus Your World" section, select "Do not use personal results."

If you turn off personalized results, it only means you won't see them . . . not that others won't still see items that Google associates with you. Google explains how to turn off personal results, so that if you "stay signed in to your Google Account, you won't see results personalized based on your Google+ circles (or suggested connections), Google products, or your search history."

Turn off Web History, since Google has plenty of data about you. "If you turn off personal results and sign out of your Google Account, you may still see personalized results and results based on the context of your search."

Google backed down on banning people who used pseudonyms on Google Plus profiles, but I had already liberated my data from Google and, with an extreme wish list for privacy and security, hunted for a non-anonymity busting, free yet secure, email service. Just the same, another interesting privacy tidbit from Google came last week when I received an email in Gmail that included an avatar image. The person who sent the email from Hotmail was sitting next to me, but low and behold when she saw the image, she said, "Where did that come from?" The email had been sent from a Hotmail address where she has no image. She does not have Gmail, but she does have Google+ which she signs into by using her Hotmail address. The picture that was sent along with the Hotmail to my Gmail was her Google+ image.

Twitter General Council Alex Macgillivray called the "warped" search result changes a "bad day" for the cyber world.

In reply, Eric Schmidt told Marketing Land, "Google+ content is not being favored" in search results, and Twitter and Facebook "can be treated the same if they grant Google the right permissions to access their content." Google said on its Google+, "We are a bit surprised by Twitter's comments about Search plus Your World, because they chose not to renew their agreement with us last summer (http://goo.gl/chKwi), and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions."

While Twitter and Google are firing cyber arrows at each other over Google+ content being a biased system, the "aspiring challenger Microsoft, which sucks in tweets" for Bing continues to have a real-time search partnership with Twitter. Microsoft also works with Facebook so Bing can "surface more personalized content."

Gizmodo said the change to Google's search engine is "privacy be damned," but also suggested some folks who are "drinking the Mountain View Kool-Aid" will like Google's "most radical transformation ever" to personalized search results.Fast Company asked if this change to displaying personal info makes Google search results "Your World or Their World"?

The ACLU urges you to keep "Your World" private. "Tell Google that you want real control over your personal information, including a privacy setting to keep your Google+ and Picasa info and photos out of search by leaving a comment on the Google+ post about this new feature."

Like this? Here's more posts:

Follow me on Twitter @PrivacyFanatic