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Privacy a concern as Google links Plus with its other sites

Juan Carlos Perez | Oct. 28, 2011
Google's work to integrate its Google+ social networking site broadly with its other services could raise red flags for users who want to closely guard their privacy.

Google did alert publishers that if they "blog under a pseudonym" and they don't want their real names suddenly associated with their blogs "this integration may not work for you."

So, basically, integrate with Google+ and slap your real name on your Blogger blog, or stick with your pseudonym and miss out on these current and future goodies.

Pam Dixon, founder and executive director of the World Privacy Forum, said that, when announcing integration options for Google+, Google shouldn't encourage users one way or another. "The descriptions need to be clear and neutral," she said in a phone interview. That way, it will be less likely that people will end up accepting the integration without fully knowing the implications of the move for their online identity.

Google should also be very specific in explaining what the Google+ integrations will entail, said John Simpson, a consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog.

"Google needs to be crystal clear about what it means by integration. It must be simple and intuitive for users to control what information from pseudonymous accounts is shared on Google+," he said via email.

It's valid to raise concerns over Google's decision to integrate Google+, which carries a real-name requirement for users, with other Google services people have been using with pseudonyms for years, said John Verdi, senior counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in a phone interview.

Google's nightmare scenario would be for a critical mass of users to inadvertently green-light Google+ integrations only to later complain that they didn't know their pseudonyms in certain services would be replaced by their Google+ real name.

If that were to happen, Google could find itself in a privacy controversy that it can ill afford. The U.S. government has the company on a short leash, having mandated audits of its privacy policies and practices for the next 20 years after a privacy firestorm ignited with the launch of the now-closed Buzz service last year.

Buzz, a microblogging and social networking service, debuted with an integration with the Gmail webmail service that exposed users' private e-mail contacts publicly and without authorization.

Since launching Google+ this summer, Google officials have been stressing that it makes it simple and intuitive for members to control what they share, with whom and how.

During this initial period, when Google+ has operated mostly as a stand-alone social networking site, consensus has been that, yes, its content sharing and privacy controls work well and as advertised.

However, Google has now started to integrate Google+ with other services, and it remains to be seen whether a critical mass of users will fully understand the interaction, cross-functionality and data sharing between Google+ and other Google services.


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