Privacy with Google search? Reviewing Google’s new +1 feature


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google-plus-logoGoogle’s famously enigmatic search algorithm is no longer the only thing influencing search results: now public opinion will play a role. So what is Google’s new +1 feature, and how does it affect your online privacy?

Google is inching closer to Facebook’s dominance of the social web by rolling out +1, its social search feature.  It’s like a Digg, a Reddit upvote, or a Facebook “like” for your search results:  you click a small +1 button next to a search result or a Google ad, and the world will know that you liked it.

This is how Google’s +1 will look in action.


Who can see the search results you +1?

Search results will show the number of times they’ve been +1’d. If someone in your social circle has +1’d it, you’ll see his or her name.  The same applies to you:  if you +1 something, your friends will see your name under it.  By default, your +1’s are public. Google explains,

+1’ing is a public action. Anyone on the web can potentially see that you’ve +1’d content when they’re searching on Google or viewing content you’ve +1’d. For this reason, you should only +1 pages when you’re comfortable sharing your recommendation with the world.

It could be interesting, right?  A stamp of approval from your friends, right in your search bar?  But there’s a catch.

What can they find out about you?  Your Google profile

First, you need to have a public Google profile to use +1.  As Google describes it,

To use +1, you’ll need a public Google profile.

“Your profile will be visible to anyone on the web, and anyone with your email address can discover it . . . At a minimum, your first name, last name, and photo will be public on the Internet.”  For those of us looking to fly under the internet radar, this requirement is cringe-worthy.

Who does Google consider your social network?  Everyone you’ve emailed and everyone who has emailed you.

Using +1 means granting Google access to your Gmail contacts list, as well as your Buzz, Reader, Talk, and whatever other contacts you maintain with Google. If you thought your contacts lists were your private info, think again if you want to use +1.

If you’re the type of user who doesn’t want your search results or contacts lists to become public information, steer clear of +1.  One positive note about +1, though, is that Google has made it easy for users to delete past +1’s that they no longer want to recommend.

Google is taking its time in releasing +1, perhaps to avoid a highly public blunder like the one it had with Buzz and Wave, but you can join the experimental version if you wish.

And if you already worry about the amount of information that’s publicly available online about you, our DeleteMe service will cut down on it and give you a report on what’s out there.

6 Replies to “Privacy with Google search? Reviewing Google’s new +1 feature”

  1. Anonymous says:

    So if my email appears in someone’s contact list, and they +1 a link, then Google has access to my email.

    And people are OK with this?

    Time to change email address and drop everyone with a gmail account from my own contact list.

  2. RS says:

    @ anonymous: exactly. our emails are basically becoming other peoples property. its insane.

  3. DP says:

    Umm – if you have a gmail account – google already has access to your email.

    How is this any different to Facebook privacy? Article didn’t go into that.

  4. Charlie says:

    OK, please tell me that I can disable plus1. I don’t want to accidentally click on the +1 next to some dodgy link, or link that people might misinterpret, and then have that fact broadcast to my entire ‘network’.
    This is unbelievably bad.

    • sarah says:

      Yeah, we agree. The good news is that you have to enable it manually in order to use it at all. If you accidentally hit a +1 button now, without having configured it, you’ll get a popup window that asks you to “confirm how you’ll appear,” (your Google profile, photo, etc.). At least this step is somewhat of a failsafe.

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